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Positive Feedback ISSUE 54
march/april 2011


Spell for Orchestra - Sasha Matson

Spell Movement 1

Spell Movement 2

Spell Movement 3

The Berkeley Symphony Orchestra – Kent Nagano, Music Director, Recorded April 13th, 1984, Berkeley.

(Note: At the time of this performance the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra voted to give me permission to record for my own personal not-for-profit use, and it is posted here as an audio file only,  under that permission.)

Program Notes

Here is truly ‘One From the Vault,’ as my brothers in The Grateful Dead would put it. For any composer, the opportunity to revisit an earlier work is a time for reflection and rich emotion. Spell for Orchestra was composed over twenty-five years ago, and as I look at the score today I admire the chutzpah of a younger version of myself who took my former teacher John Adams advice, “Half-way doesn’t get it.” I remain impressed by the amount of musical life I poured into these fifteen minutes. The original title was Spell- for Large Orchestra. There were tripled and quadrupled brass and winds, and like a lot of contemporary music, a ton of percussion.

The title Spell refers primarily to the act of magical summoning involved in any effective piece of music. The work is divided into three brief movements, to be performed with only minimal pauses between them:

Movement I, marked Hammered, begins by ramping up to a gigantic 12-tone ‘wall of sound,’ propelled by a rhythm from the opening bars of the great early Motown Smokey Robinson song, Goin’ To a Go Go.     

Movement II, is marked Tenderly. I made a cut of material from the end of this section when the work was first performed, at the suggestion of conductor Kent Nagano who originally commissioned it. Kent was correct; that cut is good. This short and sweet second movement still speaks to my melodic aspirations; it reflects who I am. As Brian Wilson said: “Once in a while you want to let your soul come out to play.”

Movement III, is marked Spirited.  The music builds into a tidal wave, breaking on the declamatory brass outburst that represents all I love about Copland, Stravinsky, and John Williams. There is hard athletic playing called for here; the music is meant to be loud and aggressive with no compromises. The piece ends with a last heroic unison statement of the descending five-note motive that is the primary melodic material of the work.

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