Hearne: Dispatches

Dispatches for Orchestra

BORN: May 2, 1982. Chicago, Illinois

COMPOSED: 2014. Dispatches was commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony and New World Symphony, in partnership with Boosey & Hawkes, with the support of the Ralph I. Dorfman Commissioning Fund, as part of the New Voices project.

WORLD PREMIERE: January 30, 2015. Christian Reif and the New World Symphony

FIRST SFS PERFORMANCE: These are the first West Coast and SFS performances

INSTRUMENTATION: 3 flutes (3rd doubling alto flute and piccolo), 3 oboes (3rd doubling English horn), 2 clarinets, bass clarinet doubling C clarinet, 3 bassoons (3rd doubling contrabassoon), 4 French horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, 4 percussion (playing almglocken, bass drum, brake drum, two Chinese cymbals, crotales, trashy cymbal, glockenspiel, “monster” high hat, kick drum with string of small bells, large cymbal, large ratchet, marimba, medium cymbal, set of kitchen knives, small cymbal, small tam-tam, small tom tom, snare drum with Chinese cymbal, 3 Thai gongs with 1 suspended, triangle, vibraphone, 5 wood blocks, large wood slat, and xylophone), electric guitar, electric bass, and strings

PERFORMANCE TIME: About 15 minutes

Composer, singer, and bandleader Ted Hearne uses a wide breadth of musical influences to create intense, personal, and multi-dimensional works. His oratorio The Source, which set text from the Iraq and Afghanistan War Logs and words by Chelsea Manning (the US Army private who leaked classified documents to WikiLeaks), premiered last October at the BAM Next Wave Festival in Brooklyn; the work will be released in October 2015 on the New Amsterdam Records label. Hearne’s Katrina Ballads, also an oratorio with primary source libretto, was awarded the 2009 Gaudeamus Prize in composition and was named one of the best classical albums of 2010 by Time Out Chicago and The Washington Post. As the 2014 New Voices composer, he received a co-commission from the San Francisco Symphony, New World Symphony, and Boosey & Hawkes for the piece heard at these performances.

Hearne serves on the composition faculty at the University of Southern California. He is one-sixth of the composer collective Sleeping Giant, performs and composes with Philip White as part of the vocal-electronics duo R WE WHO R WE, and recently collaborated with hiphop/soul artist Erykah Badu. Recent and upcoming commissions include orchestral works for the San Francisco Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, New World Symphony, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, and A Far Cry; chamber works for eighth blackbird, Yarn/Wire, and Calder Quartet; and vocal works for Volti, The Crossing, and Roomful of Teeth.

The composer offers these comments on Dispatches:

Sometimes I feel like I’m a stranger in a strange land when I visit an orchestra. The air at an orchestral concert is rarefied, culturally and sonically removed from so much of the music I hear every day. These five short Dispatches are a response to this removal — my official reports from a distant location.

Each movement of Dispatches takes music I first heard in a much different setting, filters it through my own musical language, and turns it into a short work for orchestra. Each movement is derived from strongly melodic source material, though for most of the piece only fragments of melodies peek through. I wanted to find a way to “hear” the distance between the music’s original context and an orchestral one.

Dispatches opens with obsessive reiterations of one isolated moment from Stevie Wonder’s “If It’s Magic,” a song I heard him perform on his Songs in the Key of Life tour. Many colors of the orchestra are spliced and shuffled in rapid succession, though none are capable of recreating the magic of that singular moment. From here the music launches into a neo-soul ballad inspired by the simple and elegant keyboard voicings of Erykah Badu. In this second movement, both the melody and rhythmic pulse are created through the subtraction of notes and instruments, one at a time, from every chord.

In the central movement, the cello section gradually undergoes a strange metamorphosis: one by one, each member “prepares” their instrument by sticking a wine cork in between the second and third strings. This transforms the sound of their simple melodies into something distorted and brash when bowed, mysterious and gong-like when plucked. The electric guitar's music is transformational in nature too, as triadic harmonies gradually become overtaken by feedback and amp noise.

The fourth movement (marked "wheezing; industrial") folds these cello and guitar techniques into a relentlessly pulsing rhythm and explores the full spectrum between noise and pitch. This music is, more than anything, inspired by the fact that we are sitting politely in a room with more than fifty individuals who have the capacity to join forces to create a giant sound monster.

The final movement paints the dense overlay of voices in the city with superimposed fragments of docile melodic progressions, added and subtracted from the composite texture at regular intervals.

Throughout the piece, two amplified instruments (electric guitar and electric bass guitar) act as timbral remnants of a distant world, unable to fully assimilate with their classical classmates, prone to noisy interruptions that seem to have been lost in translation.

— Ted Hearne

More About the Music
Recordings and Reading: There are currently no recordings of Dispatches available. Visit Ted Hearne’s website for more information on the composer and recordings of other works

(September 2015)