Rands in Conversation

By now settled in to the Chicago chill, I’ve had a chance to speak with Bernard Rands and for both of us to hear the first rehearsal of his new work, Dream, with the Chicago Symphony and Music Director Riccardo Muti. There are many things I’ve been struck by, having now heard the work, as opposed to what I could “hear” with my inner ear, so I offer a few of my mental notes here.

The swell, which opens the work, plays a much larger role than I expected. In fact, this swell and the many directions it takes—a hairpin, a long decay, a final surge followed by silence as in the ending—may be the key element of the work, as much or more vital than the melody upon which much of the music is based. This recurring swell—multidirectional in character—relates perhaps to what Rands meant when he spoke to me of harmonies that can go in “more than one direction.” Perhaps not just harmonies, I would add, but the gestures through which those harmonies are deployed. Taking things one step further, this swell is not just a gesture but also a structural idea or concept, for the work proceeds overall through a series of build-ups and various degrees of decay. This is a kind of “three-dimensional” thinking—and listening—to which I’m very much drawn.

Another thing I’ve been struck by is how the beautiful lyric melody, which concludes the work, permeates even more aspects of the music than I envisioned from having studied the score. It is not just the wind solos presenting melodic fragments as the piece progresses, but some of the pizzicato figures and the long-resonating punctuation of tubular bells, among many other points of references. Especially after hearing the piece a few times, these iterations emerge in a quasi-déjà vu-like fashion, creating an overall—dare I say it—dreamlike atmosphere.

The role of certain orchestrations and timbres is also more pronounced than what I imagined. Those same tubular bells, besides tolling parts of the melody, play a structural role, helping us to identify the start of several sections by “resetting”, in a sense, the pulse and focusing our momentary sense of tonic.

Hearing Rands’ work for the first time reminded me once again that our ability to perceive things aurally far outpaces our ability to detect some of them on the page. As I have often put it: “The ear is faster than the brain!” I’m looking forward to accumulating some more aural data over the coming days.