Suite for Cello (2018)
In Five Movements
June 30, 2018, Taipei Cultural Center, New York, NY
Chris Irvine (cello)
September 6, 2018, Taplin Auditorium, Princeton, NJ
Performer: Joann Whang
Recording engineer: Andres Villalta
“Suite for Cello” is a five-movement work that explores the rich sound palette of the modern cello within the framework of an antiquated formal language. The allusions to—and illusions of—J.S. Bach’s six Cello Suites serve not only as an acknowledgement of influence, but also as an expression of historical and psychological distance. I wanted to capture the warmth and intimacy that made me fall in love with Bach’s suites while at the same time exploring affective extremes—the fragile, the violent, the obsessive—that were perhaps unavailable to him, writing as he did within the pristine conventions of 18th-century instrumental dance music.
In my suite, the lowest string of the cello is tuned down by a semitone (plus eight cents, to be precise). This scordatura tuning provides a rich array of harmonics that, when juxtaposed with the other “correctly” tuned strings, produce subtle clashes. The two bottom strings define two tonal centers, which are often used simultaneously: B and G. The clashing of both tones and tonal centers creates the feeling of being pulled in different directions. And when the two keys return from their harmonic digressions, we face the distinctly modern problem of returning to two different places at once.