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<< rewind <<

About the Work

Quick Look Composer: Anna Clyne
Program note originally written for the following performance:
National Symphony Orchestra: Leonard Slatkin, conductor / Gautier Capuçon, cello, plays Saint-Saëns Nov. 10 - 12, 2011
© Thomas May

A positive side-effect of the surging creativity of composers now in their 20s and 30s is the rejection of preconceived notions of audience "segmentation."  Like a number of her peers, Anna Clyne has absorbed inspiration from across the history of music-and from other artistic disciplines, too-in an unself-conscious effort to connect directly with listeners.  Her growing body of work, which often involves combinations of acoustic instruments and electronics, has appeal for those focused on classical tradition as well as the new-music crowd.  Diverse audiences have also responded to her emphasis on dialogue with other areas of artistic expression.

Born in London in 1980, Clyne first began notating her compositional ideas at the age of 11 and has already amassed an impressive list of commissions and awards from prestigious institutions, including a two-year term as Mead composer-in-residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, which continues this season.  Clyne studied at the University of Edinburgh and then at New York's Manhattan School of Music, where << rewind << --written and premiered in 2005-originally served as the thesis composition for her master's degree.  In an interview about the piece before its performance by the Chicago Symphony last year, Clyne pointed out that she originally found the challenge of approaching her first work for a large-scale orchestra to be "overwhelming."  In frustration, she began pounding away at a cluster of notes on the piano but then made the liberating discovery that this could serve as the kernel for the entire piece.

<< rewind << demonstrates an abiding concern of Clyne's endeavor as a composer: namely, her openness to impressions from other artistic collaborators, which shape and add texture to a vibrant creative imagination and an inherent feel for sonic color and layering.  She composed the original version of << rewind << for choreographer Kitty McNamee, artistic director of the Los Angeles-based Hysterica Dance Company.  "A distinct characteristic of McNamee's work," notes Clyne, "is its striking and innovative use of physical gestures and movements that recur throughout the course of a piece to build and bind its narrative structure.  This use of repetitive gestures is utilized in the musical language and structure of <."  These gestures underline the kinetic sense of event and momentum that characterizes Clyne's own music and treatment of the orchestra as well.  And while the score plays with techniques of recording technology-a familiar-enough trope from the postwar avant-garde, not to mention early Minimalism-its actual trigger was an image from visual technology: the rewinding in question refers to a visual rather than an audio tape.  <<rewind<<, she writes, "was inspired by the image of analog video tape rapidly scrolling backwards with fleeting moments of skipping, freezing and warping."

A number of Clyne's works incorporate taped soundscapes and elements from electronica-her chamber piece 1987, for example, hauntingly mixes live players with the recorded crunching of feet on the sea shingle-but << rewind << relies on the fully acoustic resources of the orchestra, with a brief optional part for tape and playback system in which a "pre-recorded rewind of the work" is controlled by one of the percussionists at the very end; the score provides for an entirely acoustic "alternate ending" as well.  At the same time, Clyne incorporated some chance sounds she encountered while working on the piece in her student days in New York City.  The fading siren of a passing ambulance, for instance, became translated into falling pitches on the horns.  The result, in the present context, is a fresh reworking of the age-old pattern of a rousing curtain-raiser for an orchestral concert.