Kirk O’Riordan

composer | conductor | saxophonist

compositions for large ensembles


Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra (2014) 22’
Commissioned by Saxton Rose

Score Samples

I. freely, quasi cadenza
II. recitative; freely, espressivo
III. relentless, agitated

Audio: (Coming Soon)

Instrumentation: Solo Bassoon, 2 fl, 2 ob, 3 cl (2 + bs), 2 bsn, 2 hrn, 2 tpt, tbn, tba, strings (8.8.6.6.4), timp. 4 perc

The Concerto for Bassoon and Chamber Orchestra was composed for bassoonist Saxton Rose. The work is dedicated to him.

The piece is set in three movements: the first movement is a chaconne which introduces the basic material of the concerto—the minor third interval (which is heard melodically in the outer movements, and serves as the background tonal pattern for the three movements). The movement is framed with serial melodic elements, which are developed more in the second movement.

The second movement is a recitative in which the solo bassoon is allowed to play with great freedom. In the background, the harp plays in its own tempo, becoming coordinated again with the rest of the orchestra at important arrival points. The language of this movement is almost entirely serial.

The final movement is highly energetic but more overtly minimalist than the previous two movements. The movement is comprised of two themes: an ascending motive in the bassoon which is punctuated by syncopated rhythms in the orchestra, and a more lyrical and florid passage in the bassoon that is accompanied by the percussion section, harp, and piano.

Among my concepts for this piece was an idea about attempting to combine two very different harmonic languages (serialism and minimalism) into one unified whole. In doing so, I wanted to showcase the best features of each language—and thus allow them to retain their identity—while at the same time allowing the two languages to compliment each other. The first movement, played with a pause before the final two movements, juxtaposes both languages. The final two movements, performed without pause, feature one language at a time.

I of course wanted to showcase what the bassoon can do, and found in my preparation for this piece a great many works (among them pieces by Gubaidulina, Theofanidis, and Berio) that influenced me in a variety of ways. The bassoon is a remarkably agile and expressive instrument, and I have truly enjoyed writing for it.




In Passing for String Orchestra, Piano, and Percussion (2011) 11’

Score Sample

Audio: (Coming Soon)

Instrumentation: strings 4 (div).2.2.2, or multiples, pno, 3 perc.

In Passing was composed in memory of my grandparents, the last of whom passed away in February of 2011. The piece is part elegy, part funeral march; it conveys mixed emotions, living between grief and happy remembrance.




Concerto for Violin and Orchestra In Memoriam Jonathan Briley, The Falling Man (2010) 28’

Score Samples:

I. Prelude and Ricercar
II. Chaconne
III. Recitative--Finale

Instrumentation: 2 fl, 2 ob (+eh), 2 cl, bscl, 2 bsn, 2 hrn, 2 tpt, tbn, tba, pno, hp, timp, 2 perc

Premiere (II. Chaconne): April 25, 2010, Lafayette College Chamber Orchestra. Stephani Bell, violin; Kirk O’Riordan, conductor

From a day filled with an infinite number of unimaginably horrific and heart-breaking images, among the most horrific were the pictures of people leaping to their deaths from the upper floors of the World Trade Center. This is an image that has followed me somewhat relentlessly in the ten years since the attacks. One photograph, captured by Associated Press photographer Richard Drew, shows a man falling, head first, from high in the North Tower. The man has never been positively identified, but most who have studied the photo believe that the man is Jonathan Briley, an audio engineer who worked in Windows on the World, a restaurant on the 107th floor.

As I have thought about this over the years, I have become more and more inspired by what I now consider to be a supreme act of courage on the part of those who jumped. Knowing that death was certain, these men and women chose to confront death on their own terms. I cannot begin to imagine having to make that decision.

This concerto was begun in 2006, then abandoned, re-started and stopped more than once in the intervening years. The Chaconne was the first movement to be completed, in 2009. Three separate first movements and two final movements were composed.

The violin concerto, as a genre, is often treated, particularly by Romantic composers (Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn), as a kind of heroic gesture: the lone violin competing and eventually conquering the orchestra with a series of virtuosic and dynamic passages. It was my intention to treat the violin in a more human (as opposed to super-human) manner. This concerto, while in places virtuosic, is essentially three slow movements: the violin here is more anti-hero, more like the everyday people who somehow found within themselves super-human resolve.

It was not, however, my intention to set, in a programmatic way, the events of that awful day. Gestures in the piece may illicit images in the listener’s mind, but it is not my desire to dictate which images are recalled. In stead, I hoped to attempt a fitting remembrance of Jonathan and the 200 others who jumped to their deaths.




Concerto for Piano Trio and Orchestra (2007) 24’
Composed for The Eaken Piano Trio

Score Samples:

I. with great intensity
II. relentless
III. cadenza, espressivo
IV. driving

Instrumentation: 2 fl, 2 ob (+eh), 2 cl (A), bscl, 4 hrn, 2 tpt (C ), tbn, tba, timp, 3 perc

The Concerto for Piano Trio and Orchestra was begun in July 2006 and completed in February, 2007. The work, the composer’s most ambitious to date, is approximately 28 minutes in duration. It was commissioned by the Eaken Piano Trio: John Eaken, violin; Andrew Rammon, cello; and Gloria Whitney, piano.

In many ways, the Concerto is as much symphony as it is concerto: its four movements closely resemble the four-movement structure associated with the late Romantic Symphony. The first movement introduces the primary motivic material developed in movements one, three, and four; the second, a frenzied scherzo-like dance, provides energy and contrasting melodic ideas; the third movement is a cadenza (without orchestra) for the Trio; and the fourth is an energetic finale. Although the first movement is not in the traditional sonata form usually found in Romantic Symphonies, the second and fourth movements are in a modified ritornello form.

The genre of the Triple Concerto is of course dominated by Beethoven’s op. 56. This work was conceived as a compliment to Beethoven’s, to exist along side the masterpiece, learning from it. The orchestras involved in each are of similar size, and the duration of each is similar. I decided early in the compositional process, though, to treat the trio as one entity (similar to Bartok’s approach with the entire orchestra in his Concerto for Orchestra), rather than the more Beethovian three soloists. While there is some solo passagework for each member of the trio, I was most interested in featuring the “ensemble” of the soloists. I wanted to equate that which makes chamber music unique with traditional technical virtuosity. This idea, as well as the Trio’s request for a section of this piece that would be “portable,” led to the idea of a cadenza movement.




River Lights for Orchestra (2006) 12’

Score Sample

Instrumentation: 2 fl, 2 ob, 2 cl, bscl, 2 bsn, 2 hrn, 2 tpt (C ), tba, pno, hp, 3 perc

Premiere: February 2007, The Susquehanna University Orchestra; Kirk O’Riordan, conductor

The piece attempts to depict the reflections of lights emanating from the town of Sunbury, Pennsylvania on the Susquehanna River. These reflections seem to have no clear beginning or end; rather, they emerge from within the water, and disappear back into the water. The piece is essentially through-composed (as is, one could say the experience of viewing these reflections as one drives up route 11 toward Northumberland), though several motives recur throughout the piece.

River Lights was first performed by the Susquehanna University Orchestra under the direction of the composer. It was the winner of a Masterworks Prize, and sub sequently recorded by the Kiev Philharmonic with Robert Ian Winstin conducting. Funding to support the first performance was provided by a Composers Assistance Grant from the American Music Center

This piece was used by Choreographer Ben Munisteri for his work Robot vs. Mermaid.




Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra (1998) 16’

Score Samples:

I. Elegy
II. Scherzo

Full Instrumentation: Solo Alto Saxophone, strings (12.10.8.6.4 preferred), pno, hp, 3 perc
Chamber Instrumentation: Solo Alto Saxophone, strings (6.6.4.4.2) pno

Premiere: March 1998, North American Saxophone Alliance Biennial Conference, Northwestern University
Russell Peterson, saxophone; Stephen Altop, conductor

The Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra was begun in February 1997 after hearing a performance of Aaron Copland’s Clarinet Concerto. During that performance, one thought plagued me almost incessantly: I wish Copland would have written something this nice for the saxophone. The first movement, then, is derived from attempted visions of what Copland might have written for the saxophone. In its final form, the Elegy is more of an homage to Copland than an attempt at imitating his style.

The second movement, “Scherzo,” also has elements of a tribute to a composer who, sadly, never wrote for the saxophone. This movement uses syncopated rhythmic patterns, which alternate between displacing the strong beats and emphasizing them. The measures with the repeated strong beats are perhaps a subconscious nod at Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring,” as is the opening material. As with the first movement, the Scherzo is not an attempt to copy a style; rather, it is an exploration of those influences which have moved me throughout my career.

Another motivation is at work with this piece: so much of the saxophone’s repertoire is so highly technical, that I wanted to showcase the saxophone’s unique capacity for melodic playing. I am grateful to all composers who write for this instrument, and each voice, regardless of how technical the piece, adds to the abilities that each saxophonist is required to possess. It is my hope that not only will the saxophonist’s technique continue to grow, but also his/her ability to play a beautiful melody.

It is these ideas from which this piece was born. The work was completed in May 1997, and the orchestration and typesetting finished in June. The work was premiered by Russell Peterson on March 28, 1998 at the North American Saxophone Alliance Biennial Conference on the campus of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. It was conducted by Dr. Stephen Altop. The version for chamber orchestra was completed at the request of saxophonist Marco Albonetti in January 2003.





Iris for Wind Ensemble (2013, rev. 2015) 34’
for The Lafayette College Concert Band

Score Sample

Instrumentation: 2 picc, 6 fl (2+2+2), 2 ob, eh, 9 cl (3+3+3), 2 bscl, 2 bsn, 5 sx (SAATB), 4 hrn, 6 tpt (2+2+2), 4 tbn (3+bs), euph, tba, db, pno, hp, timp, 5 perc

Premiere: May 9, 2015, The Lafayette College Concert Band; Kirk O’Riordan, conductor

Iris was initially composed between September and November of 2013 for the Lafayette College Concert Band and is dedicated to that ensemble. It is one of several works I have based on paintings by Claude Monet: by far the largest. It was revised in January 2015.

In my previous Monet-inspired works (most notably the two Water Lilies pieces), I attempted to create more complex textures and colors by layering short, repeated motives on top of each other in such a way as to continually vary the composite sound—in short, I was hoping to replicate the effect of Monet’s brush strokes, which attempt to depict the light reflected from the subject. In Iris, I was more concerned with depicting how Monet’s colors shine through each other, creating composite colors that are constantly evolving. This was accomplished by a variety of processes which involved the layering of multiple elements: bright, dense chords over a lower ostinato; Ligeti-esque micro-polyphony; imitation; register contrast.

The motivic material of this symphony-length work is organized using the Fibonacci series to determine phrase lengths. Its minimalist nature derives not only from the repetitive qualities of the individual brush strokes but also from the hypnotic effect that paintings of this kind have on me.




On Vincent’s Swirling Skies for Chamber Wind Ensemble (2012) 20’
Composed for The Lafayette College Concert Band

Score Sample

Instrumentation: 5 fl (II. & III. solo, V. doubles on picc.), 2 ob, eh, 5 cl (I. solo), acl, bscl (solo), cbscl, 2 bsn, 4 sx (AATB, I. solo), 2 hrn, 4 tpt (2 antiphonal, II. and ant. solo), tbn (antiphonal, solo), tba, db, pno, 6 perc

Premiere: December 8, 2012, The Lafayette College Concert Band; Kirk O’Riordan, conductor

Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings have always been fascinating to me: they provide a glimpse into the soul of a brilliant and troubled mind; they take the first steps on the path toward the abstraction that Kandinsky and others mastered later; and they use color in striking and novel ways.

Seeing these paintings in person is, for me anyway, a significantly more powerful experience than seeing them in reproduction. I am consistently struck by the thickness of the paint—the paint is so thick on many canvases that the paintings take on a three-dimensional quality. Layers of different colors combine vertically, so that we see a darker color filtered through a lighter color placed on top of it. Many of the individual colors are pure, but this layering effect alters how we perceive the colors.

It is this effect that I am attempting to create in sound.

This piece is something of a concerto grosso: thinly scored sections are separated by thicker, tutti sections. There are many soloists, but the solo parts are treated as the members of these smaller chamber ensembles. In some cases the parts are partially improvised or performed in different tempi.The piece is dedicated to the members of The Lafayette College Concert Band Senior class of 2013. These students were freshman when I joined the faculty in 2009, and they have formed the core of the LCCB since they arrived. The solo parts were written for these players.




Inaugural Fanfare for Brass and Percussion (2012) 5’
Composed for the Inauguration of Lafayette College President Alison Byerly

Score Sample

Audio: (Coming Soon)

Instrumentation: 4 hrn, 3 tpt, 2 tbn, tba, timp, 5 perc

Premiere: October 4, 2013, The Lafayette College Concert Band; Kirk O’Riordan, conductor

Inaugural Fanfare was composed in honor of the inauguration of Dr. Alison Byerly, 17th President of Lafayette College. The work was performed at her inauguration ceremonies by the Lafayette College Concert Band, under the direction of its composer.




The Hanging Gardens for Wind Ensemble (2010) 15’
Composed for The Lafayette College Concert Band

Score Sample

Instrumentation: picc, 6 fl (3+3, div. a 3), 2 ob, 2 bsn, 9 cl (3+3+3, div. a 3), bscl, 4 sx (AATB), 4 hrn, 6 tpt (2+2+2, div.), 4 tbn (3 + bs), euph, 2 tba, db, pno, timp, 5 perc

Premiere: December 11, 2010, The Lafayette College Concert Band; Kirk O’Riordan, conductor

The Hanging Gardens was composed for the Lafayette College Concert Band. The first performance was given on December 11, 2010 in the Williams Center for the Arts on the campus of Lafayette College.

This piece began during a visit to Longwood Gardens in June, 2010. The Conservatory there seemed Eden‐esque to me, and I found it hard not to look for serpents and apples. While the title may refer more closely to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon (one of the seven wonders of the ancient world—and incidentally I am not shying away from that connection), my thoughts during the conception of the piece focused more on the contemplation of the beauty, as well as the similarities and differences of the myriad plants: so much is similar from afar, but intimately different up close. Oh...and serpents and apples...




Jericho for Brass and Percussion (2008) 3’

Score Sample

Audio: (Coming Soon)

Instrumentation: 4 hrn; 3 tpt; 2 tbn; euph; tuba; 3 perc.




Water Lilies for Fifteen Solo Winds (1999) 9’

Score Sample

Instrumentation: 2 fl, 2 ob, 2 cl, 2 bsn, 2 sx (AT), 2 hrn, 2 tpt (C ), tba

Premiere: March 2000, The Northwestern University Contemporary Music Ensemble; Jeffrey McCray, conductor

Water Lilies for Fifteen Solo Winds is the second in a series of Water Lilies pieces, which also includes versions for solo piano and orchestra. Each version is based on the same melodic idea, which in each piece is developed using different compositional procedures. The result is a series of noticeably related but distinct pieces. The idea for these pieces comes from my impressions of an exhibition of Monet's Water Lilies at the Musée de L’Orangerie in Paris. The room that these magnificent works are displayed in is in the shape of an oval; and when sitting in the middle of the room one has the distinct impression that one is in the middle of Monet's pond.

My Water Lilies are not necessarily an attempt to reproduce each painting in sound; rather, they represent the attempt to reproduce the feeling of being surrounded by these images,which from far away seem perfectly clear and photographic but up close are rather blurry and repetitive. Indeed, Monet's genius lies in his ability to make his audience look upon his art from afar, taking in the whole view at once rather than focusing on the details of its construction. This series of pieces attempts to recreate this effect in sound.

Water Lilies for Fifteen Solo Winds was the winner of the 1998 Kappa Kappa Psi competition for new music at The University of Colorado at Boulder. It was premiered by the Northwestern University Contemporary Music Ensemble, Jeffrey McCray, conductor.


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