Helios Choros III, commissioned by and dedicated to the Orchestra of Paris and Christoph Eschenbach, is the third part of a 45-minute triptych. The works can be played all together or separately, or any two can be played together. Helios Choros III lasts 15 minutes. Helios Choros I was composed in 2006 and was premiered by the Dallas Symphony, Sir Andrew Davis conducting. Helios Choros II, co-commissioned by the London Symphony Orchestra and Boston Symphony Orchestra, will premiere on 14 December 2008.
Helios, in Greek Mythology, is the sun god, son of Hyperion, depicted as driving his chariot across the sky from east to west daily. Choros in ancient Greek drama means a band of dancers whose singing, dancing, and narration provide explanation and elaboration of the main action.
My main inspiration while spending a lifetime writing music is music itself. I listen to "Jazz" as frequently as I listen to "Classical" music. Like all of my music, this work is based on a very integrated set of musical materials. What comes first for me? The sounds, the rhythms, the colors, the harmonies and then I work hard to integrate them across a 45-minute landscape.
For instance, Helios Choros III can be heard in the form of a 15-minute crescendo, with a denouement at the end. Within that simple crescendo form, there are many sections of varying character, color, rhythmic syntax, and so forth. Despite the huge differences between these subdivisions, they are all based on the same musical materials, looked at and analyzed from a variety of perspectives, and then, rejoined and combined to be part of a larger, integrated whole.
When you hear Helios Choros III, one has to imagine that, in the whole triptych, the audience will have already heard 30 minutes of music by the time the first sound of Helios Choros III starts with its lilting, light-footed and colorful dance in 6/8 meter, which is frequently interrupted by other mixed meters. Two harps, with the strings playing pizzicato, are at the center of the sound, but soon the entire orchestra is contributing to this dance, emulating a mega-harp. Gradually floating solo flute lines are excited out of the harmonies. The two solo flutes lead the music into an episode mostly for solo woodwinds, which is florid and playful. That transforms into a passage of slow, glowing, warm and resonant harmonies, in which the trombone has a long high lyrical solo. The slow music becomes active from the inside, starts to shimmer and oscillate, until it builds up enough momentum to gradually become majestic and then energized and intense.
From here until the end, continuous fast (lots of notes!), animated, virtuosic, high-energy music takes over. The music is driving and relentless, while always multi-colored. Blocks of sound-worlds are juxtaposed. For instance, you will hear a block of gritty fanfare-like, brassy lines and chord progressions, and then a block of low register jig-like gambols, and then a block of rhythmically animated intertwined tunes. These, and various other sections, crosscut quickly and very gradually coalesce. The final 80 seconds of the work, featuring the concertmaster, is a dreamy and spacious conclusion, which bring the 45-minute triptych to a modest, very quiet ending.
Augusta Read Thomas