Di Castri: Lineage

Zosha Di Castri was born on January 16, 1985, in Calgary, Alberta, and grew up in Saint Albert, just northwest from Edmonton. Currently she lives in New York, where she is pursuing a doctorate in composition at Columbia University. Lineage was commissioned by the New Voices collaborative project, a partnership between music publisher Boosey & Hawkes, the New World Symphony, and the San Francisco Symphony, and was premiered by New World Symphony, under the direction of Michael Tilson Thomas, on April 20, 2013, in Miami. Lineage is scored for three each of flutes (third doubling piccolo), oboes (third doubling English horn), clarinets (second doubling E-flat clarinet, third doubling bass clarinet), and bassoons (third doubling contrabassoon); four horns, three each of trumpets and trombones (third doubling bass trombone), and tuba; timpani; four percussionists playing marimba, vibraphone, xylophone, glockenspiel, snare drum, bass drum, ocean drum, four suspended cymbals, splash cymbal, crash cymbal, china cymbal, six nipple gongs, tubular bells, three almglocken, two tam-tams, two woodblocks, and rainstick; harp, piano, celesta, and strings. These are the first West Coast performances of the work. Performance time: about eleven minutes.

As a rule, composers who collaborate on dance projects write the music, the choreographer creates the dance, then the company rehearses the dance to the music. That’s not quite how it worked when Zosha Di Castri collaborated with Belgian choreographer Thomas Hauert and the ZOO Contemporary Dance Company, on a project called ETBTTA (Everything too big to take apart) for electronics and dance. Rather than writing her score in relative isolation, Di Castri joined in the troupe’s exercises, finding in their movements and positions the materials for her music.

That reaching across the invisible boundaries between music, dance, sculpture, video, theater, and the like—multidisciplinary is such a cold and outmoded word—comes naturally to Zosha Di Castri. She views it as a natural means to engage today’s audiences, who have grown up immersed in a near-nonstop stream of images and sound. Consider her Akkord I, for piano and electronics, which includes in its instrumentation a large, glowing, and constantly moving sculpture. Nor was the presentation limited to just music and art: she also made use of a costumer, set designer, theater director, and architect.

Thus it’s only proper that this musician, so attuned to the myriad of associations elicited by sound, would be drawn to the spectral music of composers such as Philippe Hurel and Tristan Murail—both of whom count among her teachers—given that spectral music uses the acoustical properties of sound itself (i.e., sound spectra) to create its compositional material. However, while Di Castri has absorbed spectral techniques, her style is eclectic and evolutionary. There are no convenient one-word pigeonholes for artists like Zosha Di Castri.

Lineage is Di Castri’s second orchestral piece; Alba, her first, was commissioned by John Adams and Deborah O’Grady and premiered at the Cabrillo Festival in 2011. Alba helped bring her to the attention of the panel that selected her as the inaugural composer for New Voices, a creative partnership between music publisher Boosey & Hawkes, the New World Symphony, and the San Francisco Symphony. Lineage is one of the two works—the other is a chamber piece—that New Voiceshas commissioned. Di Castri describes her inspiration for Lineage:

In Lineage, I was interested in exploring the idea of what is passed down. As a kid, I loved listening to my grandparents tell stories about “the old country” or of life in the village or on the farm. These tales were at once so real through their repetition, and yet at the same time were so foreign and removed from my own personal experience. Thinking of this, I hoped to create a piece in which certain elements are kept constant while others are continually altered, adopted, or are added on, creating an ever-evolving narrative.

In preparing for this piece, I also spent much time reflecting upon what it means to “return”—to keep coming back to something (or someone) that serves as a grounding force. I was interested in the idea of a landmark or point of origin, which remains steadfast, yet also evolves subtly over time. The constant nature of this rootedness is what allows us to orient ourselves; it serves as a bearing when navigating the many branches of unchartered possibility. It is also the measuring stick by which we gauge how far we’ve come and how far we’ve yet to travel.

Lineage opens in a hush of breath sounds. The chorale melody arises almost immediately in flutes and clarinets, which play in microtones—pitches a bit sharper or flatter than normal. The deliberately out-of-tune effect creates a distant, almost folk quality, as if playing simple handmade instruments. Descending patterns in harp, piano, celesta, and strings lead to a clear cadence at the two-minute mark, ending with three soft strokes in the timpani.

A contrasting section begins with softly rhythmic pulses in the strings supported by brass and flutes. Soon enough these pulses become a rhythmic ostinato—a repetitive pattern—that gradually intensifies as the patterns acquire progressively denser rhythms. Underneath the ostinato, the orchestra gradually gains momentum and presence, and after a climactic moment the ostinato returns to its original slower pulses, marked by marimba and piano. The whole sinks back into quiet, until at the four-minute mark the chorale returns, but now with an accompanying melody in oboes and trumpets.

As the chorale concludes, quiet whirs in strings, piano, and trumpets herald a new section. The winds join, and the whirring becomes a bustle as the xylophone adds its woodiness to the mix. Listeners may note the steady pulse of the second section returning at around the six-minute mark. After an outburst, pizzicato strings introduce a sharp and angular rhythm. The passage that ensues is reminiscent of machine music, such as might accompany the underground-city scenes in Fritz Lang’s film Metropolis, all gears clanking, relays snapping, steam blasting, and lights flashing. The passage builds up inexorably to a denouement in the full orchestra at the eight-minute mark, characterized by repetitive, upward sweeps in the strings.

As those sweeps gradually lose their energy, the chorale reappears in the brass and winds. The hubbub subsides. Faint buzzings in the high strings bring Lineage to a close.

Thus Lineage can be characterized as multiple iterations of an evolving melody, each statement separated by a journey through both space and time. Perhaps that is reflected in Di Castri’s description of the work as “a combination of change and consistency, a re-imagining of places and traditions I’ve known only second-hand, the sound of a fictitious culture one dreams up to keep the memories of another generation alive.”

Scott Foglesong

Scott Foglesong is a contributing writer to the San Francisco Symphony program book.


More About the Music
Recordings—There are no commercial recordings as yet, but excerpts of Alba, Strange Matter, Cort√®ge, La Forma dello spazio,and other works are available online at Zosha Di Castri’s website music.columbia.edu/~zoshadicastri  |  YouTube hosts a number of performances and interviews, including the whimsical Trio, a collaboration with artist Julia Sherman.

Reading—Printed material is scarce, but Zosha Di Castri is well documented on the Internet. Her home page at music.columbia.edu/~zoshadicastri makes an excellent starting point.  |  Full-length articles on Di Castri and her work include those by Gloria Lipski in MusicWorks (www.musicworks.ca/featured-article/profile/zosha-di-castri) and Anna Borowiecki in the St. Albert Gazette (stalbertgazette.com).