Musical Fund Society of Philadelphia’s 200th Anniversary Announced + 2020 Update: THREE ARCS

Stephen Jaffe, Augusta Read Thomas, Tania Léon and Roberto Sierra were commissioned to create new works for the Musical Fund Society’s 200th Anniversary in 2020.

Three Arcs was finally presented in performance at the Kimmel Center, Philadelphia, with Network for New Music and the Pennsylvania Girlchoir, conducted by Jan Kryzwicki on May 1, 2022.

Three Arcs (Chamber Concerto No. 5)

I. Across the Vale • II. Still Life With Bell • III. At Liberty (March Fantasy)

Three Arcs is the second work I have created for Philadelphia’s Network for New Music. It is also my second chamber concerto written for the group, following Light Dances (Chamber Concerto No. 2 of 2009). In the present work I deliberately wished to compose for a different instrumentation than the “Pierrot plus percussion” ensemble for which Light Dances was imagined, and with the permission of the ensemble, composed for the more muted colors of an ensemble featuring flute, harp and guitar, percussion and a string trio composed of violin, viola and contrabass. Each of the three movements links in some way to the region of Philadelphia; each describes an arc, musically speaking, and each includes some relatively simple polyphonic music (think round) for which a chorus may be added. Across the Vale takes its name, and its sonic ambience from the viola’s opening solo, colored and echoed by the ensemble. Six differentiated variants trace the movement’s arc. Two bells are referenced subsequently: Still Life With Bell refers to the ceramic Bell by Toshiko Takaezu (1986) hanging above the Schuylkill River outside of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I interpret the bell’s sound, and the majesty of its placement as an invitation to serenity, meditation, or worship, even (and especially) in the midst of grim loss, cruelty and despair. At Liberty (March fantasy) does not evoke Philadelphia’s most famous bell, but instead Whispering Bells (1976) Reginald Beauchamp’s sculpture outside the African American Museum at 7th and Arch. In the manner of “arc instersecting arc” musical strains intertwine in At Liberty, some parodying patriotic marches (the ascending half-steps in Sousa’s Liberty Bell March, for one–which mirrored–when that patrioticmelody is heard upside down–can be understood as a lament!). Adding to the fantasy are an autohorn, and a magical, slow, landler, such as a Philadelphian walking on cobblestones might have heard. At the conclusion, notes and bells ring in various iterations of thirteen, as if to remind us of the Whispering Bells. My inspiration was particularly in the sculpture’s poetic dedication to Crispus Attucks, the first solider felled in the Revolutionary War, whose significance is properly included in any arc recounting our history’s curve towards justice (to paraphrase Dr. M.L. King). For the goal of an artistic work is not to bring up nice pieces of history, but for us to become fluent with our lives, now. The thirteen bells of Mr. Beauchamp’s sculpture represent thirteen colonies, and their ringing projects forward into the future…make of it what we will. (-SJ)


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