June 5, 2010
Melissa Barak, choreographer
New York City Ballet
Fayçal Karoui, conductor
Lincoln Center, New York, NY
Light, refracted through a prism, separates into a spectrum of constituent colours. A streetful of neon signs similarly refracted or even merely seen through a rain-streaked window will separate similarly, into a kaleidoscopic display of colour and blurred forms, barely discernible, but all ultimately stemming from the same source.
Neon Refracted, Op. 17, is a Broadway show compressed into twenty-five minutes, scored for a relatively small orchestra that might be found in a theatrical pit if the composer had connections to the Mob. It draws on the elements of music for the theatre but does not replicate them; instead the normal theatrical idioms and "topoi" are refracted through a lens of twentieth-century classical music, techniques that have been introduced into musical theatre in the past but not fully assimilated. The resulting score is a work of some complexity, although nowhere near as "neoclassical" as the movement titles might suggest.
In form Neon comprises an overture, three set pieces, and a finale. The overture (or "Intrada" in this case) is based on several motives that will be important later in the work; the finale makes occasional references to earlier bits but is largely dominated by its new and independent main theme. The three set pieces contain the "action", which is foreshadowed in the overture, and the actual "story" can be said to come to an end with the "redemptive" conclusion of the fourth movement indeed, at one time I considered ending the piece here with the last movement providing a sort of end title music against which the cast members can take their bows and hawk the promotional merchandise available for sale in the lobby. In fact, in the middle of the finale the music fades out against slow pizzicato "footsteps" suggesting the listener emerging from the theatre and crowds into the quiet night streets, but even without one can, looking back, see the signs and billboards advertising the show, and faintly hear the orchestra still playing within.
Neon Refracted was written in the early months of 2009 on a commission from the New York City Ballet and choreographed in the spring of 2010 for its "Architecture of Dance" series by Melissa Barak.
A small body of strings should be used. While every orchestra is different and I therefore cannot generalize, a comfortable minimum count might be 126.96.36.199.3, and a comfortable maximum as many as 10.8.6.6.4, although the number may be augmented or diminished beyond these limits at the conductor's discretion.
NB. The percussion part marked Snare/Hi-hat in the finale, during appearances of the main theme (bars 10-59, 126-57, 323-36), is to be regarded not so much as a strict instruction as a template for improvisation. So long as the written rhythmic patterns are roughly approximated, the part may be played on any combination of available instruments in the manner of jazz accompaniment. This also applies in bars 27-39 and 69-78 of the second movement.