String orchestra (5, 4, 4, 3, 2), commissioned by A Far Cry, Boston’s self-conducted chamber orchestra, 20 minutes. First performance: 30 October 2009 at Jordan Hall, New England Conservatory, Boston, MA.
Christopher Hossfeld’s odd yet compelling ‘concerto GROSSO’ for 18 strings, received its first performance. Each of its three movements refers to death; offsetting the gloom is a sense of mischief and irony…. The finale opens seriously, with a beautiful passage for four violas, but later morphs into a rustic folk dance before sliding back into the unsettling dissonances with which the piece opens.
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concerto GROSSO can be seen in two ways: it is either a chamber piece for 18 strings, or a concerto for an 18-string orchestra where all players are soloists. In either case, it is 18 minutes long. Attempting to blur the line between chamber and orchestral music at this scale creates a grossness in the music: multiple overlapping layers, thick dissonant chords, a sense of rhythmic disorder and chaos, not to mention the physical challenge of holding the piece together. To balance this complexity the overall structure is simple: 3 movements with familiar forms: solo vs. tutti, fugue, and passacaglia/theme & variations. The forms are sterile and mathematical, while the music remains terribly personal.
1. All but Death—
The titles of the movements are literary quotes. Their preoccupation is clear: death. The first movement is built on alterations between large tutti and small solo groups. The line between solo and tutti is intentionally vague. The urgent 16th notes of the theme are framed by full orchestral chords at the beginning, middle and end of the movement. As the final sounds fade, a familiar strain may be heard floating from the violas.
2. …AND ZOMBIES
An 18-voice triple fugue is quite disgusting to behold. Is it as disgusting as the undead, or the obsession with death?
3. l’enterrement d’une feuille morte
This passacaglia is part Chaconne in d minor, part Dido and Aeneas, and a lot of historical fantasy. The mood is both grave and playful. There are twelve sections in the piece (11 bass-line repetitions plus coda), each section is 12 bars long, and the whole movement is approximately 12 minutes.