for Chamber Orchestra

James Matheson

Performing Ensemble: Chamber Orchestra
Publisher: Theodore Presser Company
Print Status: Rental

Quick Overview

Colonnade is inspired by Albany’s majestic New York State Board of Education Building, and written on a commission from the Albany Symphony Orchestra. It was an intriguing task, in part because in order to accept the commission I had to agree to write a work “inspired by” a building I had not yet seen. This problem was compounded by the fact that, for me, the very notion of extra-musical inspiration is a complex one, particularly with respect to literary or visual sources. I generally find ideas and abstracted notions more generative of musical ideas than specific ones (a poem, an experience, a painting). So when I went to see and tour the building, I sought to identify fundamental formal aspects of the building which I could process into musical ideas, and would then be linked to the building through a sense of formal relationship. In the end, two characteristics of the building stood out as noteworthy and undiminished by time (compared with, for instance, the building’s rotunda, which contains a series of quaintly outdated allegorical paintings): the exterior colonnade and a beautiful interior vaulted ceiling, designed by Guastavino.

For me, a colonnade acts as a metaphor for the tension between knowledge and perception. We all know, for instance, that the columns are of the same height and are equidistant from each other. Nevertheless, while the mind understands this fully, it is also the case that there exists no place – no standpoint or viewpoint – anywhere in the universe – from which one can perceive this; the columns always appear to be of uneven height and spacing. If one then adds motion to perspective – a walk along the colonnade, for instance – the fixed, even, rigidly identical columns acquire elasticity, and begin to change kaleidoscopically – they shrink, grow, become closer, and then further apart. Further, the detail of the building’s façade behind the colonnade shifts into and out of visibility, with different portions obscured by the columns from each vantage point.

These considerations underlie the outer sections of Colonnade, in which a continuously repeated, continuously varied rising figure – suggestive of a column – dominates. The iterations of this elastic, evolving figure are interspersed with other music – suggestive of the building’s façade.
The second feature of the building that caught my attention was the vaulted ceiling, designed by Rafael Guastavino, of one of the building’s largest rooms. The ceiling enhances the spaciousness of the room, giving it an openness and lightness that is quite captivating. The middle section of Colonnade has this openness at its core, and is dominated by long, arching lines that, to me, suggest the refined beauty of this ceiling.

—James Matheson

Available on Rental

Scores & Parts

Colonnade - Full Score - Study
Colonnade - Full Score - Large

Additional Information

Commission Albany Symphony Orchestra
Composition Date 2003
Duration 00:18:00
Orchestration Fl. Ob. Cl. Bsn. Hn. Hp. Vibe. 2Vln. Vla. Vcl. Cb.
Premiere March 8, 2003, Albany Symphony Orchestra, conducted David Alan Miller

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