Composer Alive: Brazil First Installment

Recorded July 21, 2013 at Constellation.

Our collaboration with Alexandre Lunsqui is off with a bang! In the first installment of his piece, titled Toy, he writes brash, gestural music that explores extremes of registers in with a mesmerizing, lilting rhythmic intensity.

Toy, installlment I

Of the first installment Mr. Lunsqui has this to say:

I would like to express my gratitude to Seth Boustead for commissioning me to write a piece for the Composer Alive project. I am honored to be part of this initiative.

When I started to compose Toy, I was not too concerned about defining the form of the piece beforehand. This does not mean structural divisions will not have an essential role in the piece, it only means that I am much more concerned with creating trajectories and directions to the material I am using. The material will gradually reveal itself during the course of the composition and the form will be a consequence of this process.

I like to use a very simple metaphor to describe this procedure: a rubber band being stretched to the point of rupture. You feel the forces in action and you can control their intensity and movements. Also, you know whether you want the rubber band to break or not, but you don’t know precisely when it is going to happen. Actually, during the stretching you might decide to stop the process and go back to the start; or you might try to create a pattern alternating between increasing the stretch and releasing it; you might even want to break the rubber band as quick as possible and grab another one just to restart the process in a different way. This interplay between what is predictable and what is not creates an interesting dynamic during the writing of the music.

After composing the first measures of Toy, I soon realized that I had most of the ingredients to develop the entire piece. While I was asked to write about two minutes of music for the first installment, the fluidity and clarity of this initial material allowed me to go much further in the piece. The ingredients in question – a conjunction between durations, rhythms, timbres and harmonies – created a very flexible structure allowing for various possible operations such as variations, transpositions, discontinuities, and juxtapositions, among other procedures.

Conceiving the ensemble as a “toy” is another important element directly connected to the flexibility described above. A toy is usually a simple device with a very clear function. However, it can also be perceived from a much broader perspective that goes beyond its original role and which involves concentration, exploration and discovery. Musically speaking, this broad analogy with the playfulness of a toy has been very resourceful during the composition of this piece. The first installment of piece took place on July 21st.

For the occasion, the ensemble played about two minutes of the work. The piece asks for very precise rhythms and sounds. Furthermore, the combination of some extreme registers, complex timbres and very fluid material leads to a music that is at the same time joyful, virtuosic and very complex. I am quite happy with the results. A few corrections have been made in the flute part – especially because of some extreme registers and speed. Also, it is important that the piano becomes the “engine” of the ensemble – the piano triggers many of the sounds, almost as if the keyboard were wired to the other instruments.

As already mentioned, one of the main challenges of the piece is the mixture between very fluid material with very precise rhythms and synchronicities. It is important to encompass these characteristics without losing a sense of “groove”. Judging from the first installment, I can already tell the ensemble is very keen about achieving this balance with perfection.


Installment one was performed by:

Alyson Berger – cello
Alicia Kelley – flute
Amy Wurtz – piano
Jeff Yang – violin
Richard Zili – clarinet