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Program Note

Christopher Cerrone

The Pieces That Fall to Earth

for high soprano and chamber orchestra

1.1(bcl).1(ca).1-1.0.1.0-2perc(I. mar [5 oct, ossia for 4.3 oct], crot, tam-t, guiro, sandblock, lg sus cym, tri, tibetan singing bowl [G#5]; II. vib, glsp, guiro, med sus cym, sizzle cym, sandblock, guiro, tri)-pno.hp-vn.va.vc.db (2015)
Text informationtext by Kay Ryan
Duration20'
MovementsI The Pieces that Fall to Earth - II Hope - III That Will to Divest - IV Swept Up Whole - V Sharks’ Teeth - VI Insult - VII The Woman Who Wrote Too Much
CommissionCommissioned by Los Angeles Philharmonic
PremiereMay 26, 2015; Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles, CA; John Adams, conductor • Hila Plitmann, soprano
LanguageEnglish
PublisherSchott Music
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Program Note

When casting about for a text for a new work for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, my list of requirements seemed almost possible to fulfill. My already formidable list of requires a text that to be lyrical, imagistic, and (perhaps most importantly) short. In my phil for the LA Phil, I wanted a to set a set a text of a woman poet (something I have not done in many years), and I wanted the text to have a connection to Califonia, and Los Angeles in particular. 

After what I thought was perhaps a fruitless search, a friend recommended the poetry of Los Angeles native (and current Bay Area resident) Kay Ryan. Her complete poems fit into a single 200 page book, and they were rarely more than a single—mostly white—page. Reading through her poems, I was deeply inspired and almost immediately sketched out the first eponymous song of the cycle, “The Pieces that Fall to Earth.”

However Kay Ryan’s poems aren’t just short, they’re very short, sometimes no more than 20 words. Therefore, I needed to find strategies to create a cycle of songs that were all extremely short; I didn’t want to just write a set of miniatures, I wanted to build a work with a large scale architecture. My solution was that my settings of Ms. Ryan’s poetry would mirror my own readings of her works. Some of her poems—like “Hope” and “Sharks’ Teeth” I read over rather quickly, absorbing its meaning in a single reading. Others, like “The Pieces that Fall to Earth” and “That Will to Divest” seemed to require multiple readings to glean meaning from their complex and sometimes ambiguous texts. In these I repeated the complete text multiple times—with multiple musical interpretations. Still others—like “Insult” and “The Woman Who Wrote Too Much”—I obsessed over specific phrases, repeating them over and over again in my head.

The other factor that I took into account when composing The Pieces was that I was going to be setting poetry for the extraordinary voice of Hila Plitmann, whose dazzling dexterity and range was something I was hoping to use to great expressive effect. My own vocal writing tends towards the simple: lyrical and syllabic. In The Pieces I tried to actively expand my vocabulary towards to the melismatic (as in Swept Up Whole) and well as towards the extreme and acrobatic (That Will To Divest, and Insult). All of course in service of the wide range of emotions and states in Ms. Ryan’s poetry.

Together the seven songs of my cycle forms a kind of monodrama, where the work becomes more and more personal as the piece proceeds. The first three songs all are in the third person, projecting an emotional distance. In the fourth song the second person appears—“You aren’t swept up whole.” In the sixth song, “Insult,” the song approaches the first person in the plural “We need action to remind us.” And finally in the last song, “The Woman Who Wrote Too Much,” I appears.

The Pieces that Fall to Earth was commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and last approximately twenty minutes. I hope that Hila Plitmann and John Adams will share the dedication of my piece with several composer friends who remain deep inspirations to me.

– Christopher Cerrone

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