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ClassicsOnline Home » RYAN, J.: Symphony No. 1, "Fugitive Colours" / The Linearity of Light / Equilateral (Gryphon Trio, Vancouver Symphony, Tovey)
Jeffrey Ryan is one of Canada’s most outstanding composers. He evokes bright, vivid colours in his works which brim with imaginative sound worlds. The Linearity of Light is one such work and is concerned with imagining sound itself, brilliantly realised through different pitch combinations and their suggestions of the brightness of light. Equilateral is a triple concerto, and a spiritually complex meditation that fuses lament with joyful affirmation. Symphony No. 1: Fugitive Colours draws on the idea of colours that fade when exposed to light, and does so with masterly orchestral virtuosity.
By Barry Kilpatrick
American Record Guide
By Colin Eatock
Jeffrey Ryan (b. 1962)
The Linearity of Light • Equilateral • Symphony No. 1: Fugitive Colours
Jeffrey Ryan’s relationship with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra began in 2002 when Music Director Bramwell Tovey appointed him Composer-in- Residence, a position he held for five years. The VSO then named Ryan its Composer Laureate for the 2008/09 season, taking him and his concert opener The Linearity of Light on tours to China, Korea, Macau, and central Canada. This work, along with the triple concerto Equilateral (co-commissioned with the Toronto Symphony in celebration of the Gryphon Trio’s fifteenth anniversary) and Symphony No. 1: Fugitive Colours, are part of the legacy of this highly successful relationship.
The Linearity of Light exists as sound, but its inspiration is visual—the qualities and properties of light. The piece begins with an evocation of sparkling light, which transforms into a blinding beacon, in the form of a fortissimo unison, reflecting off imaginary mirrors in space, leaving fading afterimages on the retina of the ear. A soft dense chord from the full orchestra acts as a prism, breaking the sound into a spectrum of pitches which first accompanies an extended English horn solo. This prism idea recurs, with various “colour filters” applied to the sound, allowing different combinations of pitches and instruments to pass through, creating first a warm, saturating kind of light, then a series of delicately shaded colours, then a cold, pale light accompanying a ghostly trumpet solo. A roar from the tam tams leads into the final section, suggestive of a blazing and penetrating light. In the closing gesture, the sound almost focuses again into a single beam, the rays scattering off in all directions at the last moment.
The triple concerto title Equilateral suggests an equilateral triangle, the solo trio’s three equal partners. But “equilateral” more generally means “equal-sided” and here the orchestra is not mere accompaniment but plays an equally important role. Violinists, cellists and pianists do not have to stop playing to breathe, which is where the movement Breathless starts. In its six minutes of racing pulse, the three soloists are treated as one unit, sometimes set against the orchestra, sometimes part of it. In contrast, the contemplative Points of Contact explores the ways we seek connection, with others and within our selves. Two texts provided inspiration. French words by poet Arthur Rimbaud, in which he calls out to his creative Muse, are given an Anglican-chant-like setting by various sections of the orchestra, while each soloist in turn extemporizes above. Second, the Hebrew words of the Mourners’ Kaddish are set orchestrally, creating the effect of congregational “davening” under a halo of chimes, temple bowls and pedal points. The prayer’s final “amen”, begun by the orchestra and completed by the piano, ushers in the solo cadenza, a lament on death and loss. This connects directly to Serpentine, whose sinuous lines and primal rhythms end with a vibrant affirmation of the dance of life.
The term “fugitive colours” comes from the world of painters and weavers. Unlike permanent colours, fugitive colours fade when exposed to light. As a composer I strive to paint a vivid aural world. Yet those paints are fugitive colours: as soon as a sound is heard, it fades away.
In Symphony No. 1: Fugitive Colours, the first movement Intarsia takes its title from the knitting technique by which one colour of thread, about to be dropped, is woven in and wrapped around another colour about to begin. From the “right” side, the colours change abruptly, but from the “wrong” side, one can see a complex web of interlaced colours. In translating this technique to sound, colour changes in the music are overlapped, creating a seamless flow of colour transformation. After a slow introduction, a “cord” of sound, as the first theme, emerges as the movement moves into its primary fast tempo. Starting with clarinets, oboes and cellos, this cord quickly thickens, then unravels downward, leading to a playful duet between bass clarinet and contrabassoon. A development follows with rapid interplay of colour and rhythm, leading to a unison that ushers in the return of the main themes. An extended coda takes the movement to an emphatic close. This initial brightness is contrasted by Nocturne (Magenta), a slow movement of rich reddish-purple. Flashes of light appear, with extended solos for flute and bassoon, and brief gestures that swell up from the orchestra’s depths. The turbulence subsides into an extended passage of calm, sustained strings and marimba, with the piano finally taking the music skyward. Light : Fast plays on the idea that fugitive colours are not, in fact, lightfast. This scherzo is full of bright, rapidly changing colours, with a dancing main theme first introduced by the violas, contrasted with energetic episodes, including a twisting theme played by the clarinets. A long line rises from the bottom of the orchestra all the way to the top, building a dense closing chord that explodes in a flare that segues into the expressive violin solo opening the final Viridian. Cool green infuses this movement with stillness and contemplation. Brief cascades usher in a long melody inspired by the image of melting crayons. After a repeated chordal statement from the full orchestra, the solo violin reappears, and the music fades into nothingness.
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