The Lotus Blooms
For String Sextet
2 violins, 2 violas, and 2 cellos
The Finger Lakes Chamber Music Festival, 2011
June 8, 2011, by the Finger Lakes Chamber Music Festival String Sextet; Penn Yan, NY
Contact me for performance materials.
In the Spring of 2011, I was asked to write two pieces for my first summer at the Finger Lakes Chamber Music Festival. I spent my undergraduate years at a school with a very small string program--they had no string performance or education degrees--and, having been surrounded by wind and percussion players since beginning my musical studies, I decided to focus on writing for stings. I have always been fond of studying orchestral scores--the first score I purchased was Gustav Holst's The Planets--I was excited to write for an ensemble that was still foreign to me.
My original intent was to compose a piece that explored the subtle timbre variations that string instruments can achieve with relative ease, and what better pitch to start that exploration with than the orchestral tuning note "A." I always loved hearing the string section of an orchestra play this pitch. They always produced such a fantastic sound with just one simple note.
The piece begins with this "A" presented as a harmonic in one of the cello parts to create a delicate atmosphere. The other players gradually pass this pitch around utilizing several different playing techniques to constantly create different timbral qualities. The "A" is then made more beautiful by the addition of a "G-sharp." This addition introduces the second idea of the piece: a slow augmentation of the pitch content from a simple center. Gradually, more timbral exploration is added by the use of vibrato and pizzicato.
A climax occurs in the exact middle of the piece when all six players double the pitch content with the only double stops in the piece and the dynamic is raised to an exciting piano. During this climax, the third and final idea of the piece is introduced: a palindrome effect. The piece is then played in exact retrograde, culminating in the solitary "A" that began it.
After finishing the piece and searching for a title, the form and motion reminded me of a flower slowly opening to collect life-giving sunlight and then closing at the end of the day. I was also reminded of the cosmic beauty and significance of the lotus. While some many not agree with relating the musical dissonance to the beauty of the lotus, I believe that dissonance can be just as beautiful as it can be gritty.
- Michael Henson