(Lee Ettelson Composers Award)
Mira Benjamin, solo violin
Vocalise is dedicated to the violinist Mira Benjamin. This composition is largely influenced by my exposure to Hindustani (Classical North India) music. The title, Vocalise, refers both to the long lyrical sections performed on a single violin string, as in the famous Vocalise of Rachmaninoff, as well as the singing style of Hindustani music with its long sweeping lines and heavy use of glissandi.
In the Hindustani tradition all instruments aspire to the qualities of the voice, relating the playing techniques on the instrument to vocal production. For example, the act of plucking a string may correspond to the act of the tongue enunciating a consonant; minor variations of the angle and speed of the pluck slightly alter the timbre in a way similar to the timbral variations elicited by slight changes in the movement of the tongue. In this composition, I approach the violin in this spirit, calling for a variety of playing techniques in order to achieve a richness and variety of timbre rather than taking the unified “classical” timbre associated with standard orchestral violin technique for granted.
Formally, Vocalise consists of a single movement with several internal sections, each focusing on different strings of the violin. Furthermore, each section has a faster pulse than the previous one, giving the work a sense of large-scale acceleration. The entire work is accompanied by a slightly flat F# drone, to which the fourth string of the violin is also tuned. This drone functions as the tonal centre throughout the composition as the solo violin plays in a just intonation mode in relation to it. — T.B.