(2(picc).2(eh).2(b.cl).2(cbsn) – 188.8.131.52. – perc(2) – timp(tri.) – hp – pno – str)
Commissioned by Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (Jeffrey Kahane, Music Director) and premiered May 20 and 21, 2017 at the Alex Theatre and Royce Hall, Los Angeles, CA.
“In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing.
About the dark times.”
― Bertolt Brecht “Motto to the ‘Svendborg Poems’ ” [Motto der ‘Svendborger Gedichte’] (1939)
Writing about Will There Be Singing has proved harder than I imagined. I have never been interested in making political music. While I admire those who do, my favorite music doesn’t try to tell its audience how to think—instead, it helps us become deeper and more sensitive humans by inspiring empathy in listening. Yet I was inescapably shaken by the American election in 2016 and its attendant instability and acrimony. As I began writing a piece for the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra in early 2017, the world seemed to seep into my piece in a different way. That doesn’t make it an analogy, or program music—but it’s a reflection a composer’s psyche in uncertain times.
Will There Be Singing opens with tense and edgy music, not quite even, not quite predictable: two sharp chords oscillating between the percussion and harp. Fluttering gestures in the strings emerge, dancing around these chords, but the music remains in nervous anticipation, repeating the two opening chords again and again. Gradually, new elements emerge: a pulsating, out-of-tune unison between the clarinet and flute, more fluttering from the strings and finally the whole orchestra in deep, sustained resonance.
The work suddenly shifts, as if in a dream, indecisive before finally settling into a dark and lugubrious march—low brassy chords and distant timpani pulsating reluctantly forward. The harmony is simple (still those two chords), but a melody explodes from it into a dramatic, intense, and terrifying climax.
Emerging from this terror, a solo harp plays a variation of the anxious opening music. It’s not quite hopeful, but it’s not hopeless. The instruments that I most associate with song (oboes and trumpets) lead this simple, upward-moving melody as the whole orchestra joins together and then almost bursts apart. When I was writing, the very act of composing, of making music in dark times, felt as if it inspired a kind of singing—a joy in creation that couldn’t be repressed.
“Composer Christopher Cerrone contributed a stunning new piece […] The title comes from Bertolt Brecht: ‘In dark times/Will there also be singing?’ Cerrone doesn’t need Brecht’s question mark, so sure is he that the answer is yes. Yet in the end Cerrone produces far more light than darkness in the 11-minute score, which opens with the radiance of ringing bells and flows through a wondrous soundscape of glowing winds and rapturous string harmonics.”Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times