Archive for the ‘Orchestral’ Category

Fantasy in D

Thursday, April 21st, 2016

A fantasy is a musical composition with a free form and often an improvisatory style. Early in the 16th-century fantasias consisted of short sections based on one or more musical motives. “Fantasy in D” makes use of improvisation by the orchestra. Performers receive collections of notes or instructions and are told to improvise using them for certain period of time.

Fantasy in D

Pages from the score

Not all sections are improvised; some sections are a mix of fully notated and improvisation.  There are a couple of repeating motives, but the most prominent would be the repeated 3 notes which are heard at the climax. There are 2 top level sections, the climax of the piece is the start of the second section. The second section is the inverse of the first (b+a instead of a+b).

Score Draft Notes

Score Draft laying out the Golden Ratio

Then each of these top two sections are broken down until there are 64 total sections.  The sections break into various levels (2-4-8-16-32), then depending on the level they trigger different events, texture or chord changes, instruments used, etc. How long each section last is based on the “Golden ratio“, φ (phi) or 1.6180339887498948482… The”Golden ratio” appears in some patterns in nature, including the spiral arrangement of leaves and other plant parts. The tonal center of the piece is in D, though it is more modal then in the key of D. It travels though D, A, B, G, A, B, G, D, sometimes using major modes but mostly minor, so it is really in D…(ish).

SFCCO performs Fantasy in D


The over all feeling of the piece might be a bit somber or melancholy. Various life events, the passing of my father and my mother’s struggle with pancreatic cancer, during the writing of the work affected the mood of the piece. On May 21st, 2016, the SFCCO premièred this composition.

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for Loop

Thursday, April 30th, 2015

for n in reversed(range(1,4)):


For Loop or 80’s Nostalgia

SFCCO performs for n in reversed(range(1,4)): play(n) pause(n)

In the 1980’s pattern music or minimalism & post-minimalism were popular styles while I was in school. John Adams’  Short Ride in a Fast Machine was a big hit among my peers. for Loop was originally intended to be a “tip of the cap” to that time in my life. While writing this composition it started to sound a like a machine or a computer working. Probably a subconscious nod to my college composition professor Dr. Cindy McTee who wrote a composition called Circuits. After I completed the first draft I noticed a pattern that keep appearing, play 3 – reset 3, play 2 – reset 2, play 1 – reset 1. This pattern made me think of a simple for loop in computer programming. This is how I came up with the title for n in reversed(range(1,4)): play(n) pause(n) which is a for loop that would generate this pattern and really emphasizes how the piece sounds like a computer working. On May 9th 2015 the SFCCO premièred this composition.



Friday, May 23rd, 2014

SFCCO performs Triangles

Triangles is a composition inline with my composition Pollock which the SFCCO premiered 12 years ago. The present work uses guided improvisation and colorist techniques to create it’s sound.  The title of the work comes from the Triangular number sequence that inspired the form of the composition. There are three large sections lasting 4 minutes each. These large section have a fundamental pitch center of  ii-v-I, my jazz roots. These large sections are made up of three sections A (modal runs), B (intervalic movements) and C (chordal sustains). Each of these sections (A,B,C) are also made up of three sections each one lasting a value in the triangular number sequence (ex: 10, 15, 21, 28, 36, 45). One could also look at Triangles a quasi rondo form: A, B, C, B1, C1, A1, C2, A2, B2 (Rondo Form: A, B, A, C, A, B1, A). While three is the magic number for this composition, the numerics are just the glue for the work. With sound-washes of runs, thick Ruggle-esque chords, and intertwining spontaneous melodies — Triangles aims to paint pictures in the mind.


Incomplete Thoughts

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

SFCCO performs Triangles

Incomplete Thoughts was born out of the news that the SFCCO would not have all the bassoons they normally have for the May, 2013 concert. I stopped the piece on which I was working, and came up with another: a contemporary passacaglia where the bass line was in one time and the other instruments in others. I was thinking to use either multiple conductors or metronomes with earpieces. Desiring inspiration, I looked though some of my incomplete compositions for a bass line, and found something useable in a draft of an opera from many years ago. The figure went through some modifications and was given a lazy lilt in 7/8. I wanted to layer fragments of music on top, which were inspired by scraps of music not yet finished and other incomplete utterances. As I felt the work should be written in a stream-of-conscious-manner, an interruption motif came into being as a way to switch thoughts. While I eventually decided that the original idea of multiple times might be hard to pull off, I came up with other ways to have multiple times. In the end, I hope to have created a thought-provoking work that is more than the collection of Incomplete Thoughts that began it.


A Love Letter: Minverva’s Dance

Monday, October 25th, 2010

Dancing to the original.

Minerva’s Dance was originally written for my wife and for our first dance as husband and wife in 2004. She loves tangos and the music of Astor Piazzolla, so I decide to write her a tango. I went into my studio and started laying down some tracks. My friend and band mate, Andrew Wilshusen laid down some percussion and a few days later I had it ready to go. Since this was a studio piece with long improvised sections only a small part of it was ever written down. In the summer of 2010 I decided to notate and expand the orchestration.  The flute and soprano sax are featured soloist. The flute solo is a transcription of the original solo I played but the sax solo for the 9/25/2010 SFCCO concert was improvised. My friend Erling Wold was originally going to play accordion on this concert but just be for the concert he got hit by a car and broke his leg.  Minverva is the  goddess of poetry, medicine, wisdom, commerce, weaving, crafts, magic, and the inventor of music.

SFCCO performs Minvera


A Love Letter: G.A.C. 26.2

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

There is a quote from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s letter to his father on November 8th 1777:

I cannot write poetically, for I am no poet.
I cannot artfully arrange my phrases so as to give light and shade.
Neither am I a painter;
Nor can I even express my thoughts by gesture and pantomime, for I am no dancer.
But I can do so in sounds.
I am a musician.

This quote inspired me to create a collection of pieces I call Love Letters. They are usually for piano, last about 3-5 minutes and are written for or about someone dear to me. Twenty years ago I decided I want to write one based on my father’s initials, GAC. But every time I sat down to write it I was unhappy with the results. After my parents visit this summer, I had a feeling time was running out and I sat down to try again. I finally heard something I was satisfied with and in a couple of weeks I completed the piece I have been wrestling with for twenty years. Not only did I use his initials but I used his full name by putting rests in place of letters not used by music notation. I also added in my own name at the end.

Notation of my Father's Name

Notation of My Father’s Name

Notation of my Name

Notation of My Name

My father is very interested in running and has run marathons all over the world so the A theme last 26.2 measures (26.2 miles is the length of a marathon) and the B theme is reminiscent of the music in the movie that inspired his desire to run “Chariots of Fire”. The finale is a culmination of all themes that runs on to the end.

Piano Version:

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As I was  finishing this composition I started to hear strings playing the B theme at finale so I decided to orchestrate it for chamber orchestra. On September 25th 2010 the SFCCO premièred this version.

G.A.C. for Orchestra


Open Ended (redux)

Monday, November 16th, 2009

Open Ended

Do to unforeseen circumstances the composition I planed on having performed on the November 7th 2009 SFCCO concert had to be canceled. So I decided to pull out one of my guide improvisation compositions, Open Ended. I conducted/composed this performance as well as played tenor saxophone. It is a very versatile work that is composed live before your eyes and ears. Based on Rova‘s Radar techniques, Open Ended is less of a composition and more of a color or tool palette. It is an ever-growing collection of rules and games for the performers that are triggered by hand signals by the conductor/composer. The conductor/composer then composes the piece live using these hand signals to guide the performers. This work has no set instrumentation and can be played by any number of performers. It also has no set length; the piece could last 5 minutes or 24 hours. Open Ended has been performed several times, including a performance four years ago by the SFCCO, but every time it is a world première and unique performance that can never be repeated.


A Baby Sleeps (for Isabella)

Saturday, June 20th, 2009

After about two years of research, sketches and learning a new instrument, my composition for my daughter was premièred June 13th, 2009 by the SFCCO. The genesis of A Baby Sleeps (video Low / High) came after my daughter was born and my grandfather told me I need to write her a piece. I wanted to write a modern lullaby and one that would reflect my daughters American and Taiwanese heritage. For a few months I struggled for inspiration, then one night I realized my wife was singing a beautiful lullaby to her every night. I decided to write a “Theme & Variations” on this Taiwanese lullaby, 搖嬰仔歌 (Rocking the baby lullaby). It was written by the famous Taiwanese composer, 呂泉生 (Lu Chuan-sheng). (more information on this melody and Master Lu is available in an earlier post). Originally I was just going to add the beautiful Chinese instrument called 古箏 (gŭzhēng) to the orchestra. But in August of 2008 I was in Taipei and I bought an instrument that I have wanted to play for 20 years, the 笙 (shēng) (more on the sheng in an earlier post). So I started to add those instruments into the composition and ended up featuring the sheng and guzheng as soloist.


Gangqin Zhao, 古箏 (gŭzhēng) &
Michael Cooke, 笙 (shēng)

I had written a bunch of different variations and in March 2009 after the premièred of my composition String Theory, I started to put all the pieces together into a composition. I ended up throwing out several variations as they were to complex and made the piece lose it’s lullaby quality. When the dust settled I had four variations (plus the theme) that I liked: Variation I: Fragments, Variation II: Canon, Variation III: Block Chords & Variation IV: Reduction. I wanted the piece to flow better then just switching from variation to variation so I wrote some “connective tissue” to put it all together in a seamless way. The piece became more of a dream sequence then a traditional Theme & Variations. Now I prefer to view the composition in that way, where the first theme is when the baby is going to sleep listening to the lullaby and at Variation I she is asleep and starts to dream. The variation send her on dream adventures, maybe swimming in the ocean or floating in the sky. At the reprise of the theme at the end of the composition, the baby is back from her dream adventures and is dreaming about being in her parents arms.

A reviews of this concert can be found on Sequenza 21 and Memory Select’s Blog


String Theory

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

        String Theory, was premièred February 28th, 2009 by the SFCCO. String Theory is a guided improvisation composition that uses a graphical score which is inspired by the theoretical physics theory of the same name. String Theory is the revolutionary and shocking branch of theoretical physics that combines quantum mechanics and general relativity into a quantum theory of gravity. According to string theory, absolutely everything in the universe—all of the particles that make up matter and forces—is comprised of tiny vibrating fundamental strings. The Strings of string theory are one-dimensional oscillating lines, but they are no longer considered fundamental to the theory, which can be formulated in terms of points or surfaces too. In this composition, I have used graphical notation representing strings, points and surfaces to guide the orchestra in improvisation. Since String Theory may prove Einstein’s unified field theory at the very end of the composition the orchestra unites. If String Theory proves to be true it creates an elegant universe composed entirely of the music of strings.
         One of the exciting things about using guide improvisation as a compositional technic is the fact that music is different during each performance but over all recognizable as the same composition. To help demonstrate this I have a recording of the dress rehearsal of String Theory for a comparison to the concert performance.


Stripes & Stars

Saturday, June 7th, 2008

        In Apirl 2008 I won a “Meet The Composer’s MetLife Creative Connections” grant to participate in the SFCCO project, The Star and Stripes Forever variations ( LowHigh). Where 6 composers each write a variations on The Star and Stripes Foreverand it put together into make this new piece. I have many warm memories about hearing The Stars and Stripes Forever during 4th of July outings as a child. It is by far one of the most well known marches in the repertoire. While I have enjoyed listen to it over the years, as a performer, my part was always very boring. Bassoons and saxophone only got the pa-pa part of the um-pa-um-pa accompaniment. So for my variation, Stripes & Stars, I first decided I would give the bassoons a more fun part. Then while working with melodies I inverted them and really liked it. The inversion of a given melody is the melody turned upside-down. For instance, if the original melody has a rising major third, the inverted melody has a falling major third. I then recombined various melodies a little to round out my variation. This piece was performed on June 7th, 2008 by the SFCCO.