San Francisco Stopover

San Francisco Stopover is a light-hearted divertimento for the city I've loved for the past 30+ years. The title for the piece was suggested by the relatively few people (in my own circle, anyway) who were actually born here. Two specific aspects of the viola / cello / guitar ensemble drew me in: first, the guitar is a wonderfully unique voice, but often has less to do (i.e. fewer ensemble pieces include it than piano, for example), and second, the intimate nature of these particular instruments: none of them are dominating voices the way a brass instrument is, or even the way a violin is.

The piece is laid out in a conventional fast – slow – fast format. The first movement (Here) explores what might be considered a “problem” for this ensemble: all three instruments share the same range. I chose to heighten this aspect by creating music that is more textural than melodic or harmonic. To further emphasize the similarity between the instruments, both the viola and cello are played pizzicato through the entire movement.

By contrast, the second movement (&) allows each instrument to shine individually. It is more conventional than the first movement: more melodic writing throughout the movement, use of both arco and pizzicato for the viola and cello, arpeggiated chords combined with single-string writing for the guitar, and a mix of solo, duo and trio writing. There are also several brief passages that echo the mid-range “muddle” of the first movement

The third movement (There) is about rhythm, specifically the kind of regular rhythms of rock / pop. Although there isn't a “goove” as such, the debt to that part of my listening is obvious. Another important piece of musical material is the “power chord” common in guitar literature of all sorts. In fact, there are places in the piece where the viola and cello are mere extensions of the guitar chord.

Two other debts need mention: first, the MacDowell Colony, where I began the piece in the fall of 2005, and the fine musicians of the Left Coast Ensemble, whose performances have enlightened and inspired me in the past, and whose generous collaborative spirit has been invaluable to me in the composing of this piece.