In a conversation with this writer, Danielpour admitted he is “booked solidly” but made room in his busy schedule for the Eykamp commission in part because it is a rare honor to be asked to provide music to inaugurate a new hall. He also took the assignment as a gesture of personal and professional friendship for Maestro Alfred Savia, who has been a loyal champion of Danielpour’s work since 1992, when the Evansville Philarmonic performed his First Light. Since then, composer and conductor have kept in constant touch, and Maestro Savia programmed a second Danielpour work in Evansville, Toward the Splendid City, in 1996.
The Eykamp commission also gave Danielpour the opportunity to include in his catalog a short piece, less than ten minutes, which G. Schirmer, his publisher had been requesting. And he was challenged, he said, to write a piece that would be eminently playable. Vox Populi, he believes, is likely to sound more difficult than it actually is.
The Latin title Vox Populi, “voice of the people,” reflects the fact that Danielpour began the piece in Italy in June, at a villa in Tuscany where he has composed for several years. There he set down the first draft in four days at intensive work. He then returned to the United States to begin a residency at the Marlboro Music Festival, where he began working on the orchestration during the first ten days of July. At the end of that month he finished the piece at Yaddo, an artists’ community in Saratoga Springs, New York.
The title is also an allusion to the fact that Evansville is a place where the “voice of the people” means something, where people from all walks of life join together to make things happen, such as rescuing a historic theater and returning it to artistic usefulness.
Vox Populi is developed using traditional “classical” music techniques, but it is flavored with ideas and sounds and rhythms that are rooted in American popular music and jazz, which been the people’s musical voice. And the definition of popular music is elastic enough here to include a large chronological sweep. There is even a “certain wink” in places, particularly in the brass writing, at the popular music of the 1920s, appropriate for a hall originally built in 1919.
The music itself is also traditional in the sense that, although it moves forward in time, it retains a certain internal nostalgia, remembering where it has been and alluding to its past. The form of the work can be characterized as an “arch,” in the center of which the music turns back on itself, discards the accretions of its previous progress, and returns to its beginnings. In its musical structure Vox Populi is a veritable metaphor for the structure in which it is being premiered, the restored Victory Theatre.