When the City Rules (2016)
Symphony Orchestra // 26/29 mins
[Commissioned by Seattle Symphony and Real Oquesta Sinfónica de Sevilla]
When the City Rules is a musical reaction to my experiences and observations of living in the global metropolis of London, and also from travelling to other cities around the world: from Moscow to New York, Seoul to Seattle, Sao Paulo to Sevilla, Brazzaville to Brussels. The approach of this work could perhaps be called post-cinematic, in that the orchestra is used to create scenarios, characters, scenes & images, but unlike film, there is no leading narrative or script, rather a freer journey through images, emotions, relationships and experiences. As my musical expression of this conveys feelings and thoughts in quite a different way to words, describing the music with text only scratches the surface, but I will try to write a brief outline of each movement.
The 1st movement opens with a sense of reflection, perhaps even regret for the smaller communities we used have, contrasted against the toughness of the imposing cities we have created, all under-pined by the city’s dissonant hum in the strings. Solos from cello, flute, and french horn provide insight into the more personal memories and thoughts. Then in the following Allegro Animato & Marziale Vigoroso sections we take a journey into the unstoppable mechanistic workings of the city.
The 2nd movement, provides a complete contrasts from the brutality of the metropolis, and escapes to an intimate hideaway far above (or below) the rat-race, where very different individuals, in the form of solo saxophone, trumpet, alto flute, oboe, and cello, led by the harp & timpani, interact and exchange stories. The second half of the movement: ‘Mesto’ has the solo cello leading a sad yet hopeful conversation with other soloists.
The 3rd movement takes us deeper to the high-speed life of the technology driven 21st century city. Never resting, even when seemingly calm.
The 4th movement is loosely in the classical Rondo-form, with recurring theme of the bold, angular contemporary city, with agitated or triumphant interludes which celebrate the intensity and potential of the city. During the final coda, the solo flute, cello and trumpet return for virtuosic and lively conversation before the city reaches out even higher and wider.
In the solo passages, Flute, Cello, Trumpet and Harp emerge as key characters. These individuals reflect on the past and the future, expressing a range of emotions and intimate feelings, as they tell their stories of the city. Percussion also plays an important role, often as the driving machine-like energy of a remorselessly expanding city.
Stylistically, this work reflects the mix of history, modernity and different cultures that we find in contemporary cities. There are glimmers of 20th century modernist & romanticism, grooves from 21st century electronic music, and intertwining melodies that reach out beyond the norms of western scales and harmonies.
Personally I feel that in the 21st century we are no longer under the same post-war pressures to disconnect with past music history that composers of the 20th century had, and also I think we should also be wary of the high-art, academic isolation from broader contemporary culture that has previously been a trend.
Contemporary music can have an attitude that is more open to outside influences and cultures – just like the modern city at it’s best.
© Gabriel Prokofiev, 2016
The first performance was given by Seattle Symphony, conducted by Ludovic Morlot on 22nd September 2016 at Benaroya Hall, Seattle, WA, USA.