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Martha Horst's orchestral palindrome

April 19, 2017

The first performance of Martha Horst's piece entitled Cloud Gate will take place in Chicago on Saturday, April 22, 2017, at St. James Cathedral (65 East Huron Street) as part of the Chicago Composers’ Orchestra concert Chicago Stories which consists of five premières. All five composers were asked to create specific thematic pieces about Chicago.

 

Cloud Gate is inspired by the sculpture of the same name. Indian-born British artist Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate, the largest structure of its kind in the world, was constructed between 2004-2006 and formally unveiled in May 2006 at the AT&T Plaza in Chicago's Millenium Park. Inspired by liquid mercury, the sculpture - also affectionately known as "The Bean" because of its shape - was formed by welding stainless steel plates together without any visible seams. It is highly polished and therefore reflects everything around it. It has become an iconic symbol of Chicago, inspiring not only musicians like Dr. Horst, but all who experience it.

 

I spoke with Dr. Horst about the creation of this orchestral piece, her background, inspirations and influences.

 

 

KW:

Dr. Horst, please tell me why you chose Anish Kapoor's world-famous Chicago sculpture, Cloud Gate, as the inspiration for your composition.

 

Horst:

I chose Cloud Gate for both sentimental and musical reasons. While in Chicago on a third date with the man who would eventually become my husband, we had a photo taken of us standing together in front of the sculpture. I remember this as a very happy time in my life; eventually, I sent my wedding invitations using the photo, which is a perfect image of my marriage.

 

 

KW:

I have seen the diagram you made. How is the shape of the sculpture related to your piece, and how does the palindrome work?

 

Horst:

From a musical perspective, I was intrigued by the arch form of the sculpture and determined that my composition could be executed using a palindromic structure which would be a musical reflection of the piece. I composed the music so that physical sculpture’s curves would coincide with the aural chords of my composition as they progress from ABCDE on the upside rising to the middle (FF) and then also register on the down side as EDCBA. The chords have roots in thirds up to the center (middle) and correspondingly down from the center. To create a break in the two curves, the middle section contains extended techniques in which the sound of triangles, Tibetan bowls, and a cymbal will be heard on a timpanum, and a Superball mallet (contributing upper partials and distorted sounds) will be dragged across a tam tam. Also in the middle section, strings sustain a chord while a single harp plays. The audience will be able to sense this dramatic shift if they think of the sculpture’s shape and realize that the musical structure as a whole unfolds in the palindrome.

 

I was also inspired by Anish Kapoor's initial intention for his sculpture which was to “…serve as a gateway connecting the earth and the sky, while reflecting Chicago and its people.” My Cloud Gate incorporates woodwinds, percussion, gongs, cymbals, the tam tam, harp, and strings, and two horns in a chamber orchestra structure to demonstrate the serenity of the physical Cloud Gate. It is as tranquil, peaceful, and non-agitating as the sculpture. 

 

 

KW:

When did your passion for music first begin and what drew you to composing music?

 

Horst:

I began studying the piano when I was five years old. I had originally thought of pursuing a career in engineering, but I decided instead to study music at Stanford University's prestigious Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA). That's where I became particularly interested in music theory, composition and sound manipulation and wanted to create, rather than play, music. I have sung with the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, and have taught at the University of California (Davis), at East Carolina University, and at San Francisco State University. Currently, I am a Professor of Theory and Composition at Illinois State University. 

 

 

KW:

Who are some of your musical and other artistic influences?

 

Horst:

I've been influenced by a variety of composers and artists. My 20th century compositional influences would include Henri Dutilleux and György Sándor Ligeti. Earlier influences include Brahms (in particular, Ein deutsches Requiem, because of its key structure as an arch form), and Mozart, whose Symphony No. 31 in D major (the Paris Symphony) I am currently teaching. I composed a piece to convey the motion and fluidity of Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night and Strauss's orchestral, tranquil music was the inspiration for Straussian Landscapes, performed in 2016.

 

 

KW:

What else have you been working on recently and what are you working on now?

 

Horst:

Four of my compositions are scheduled to be performed in the coming year. I'm currently working on a choral piece triggered by the current political climate and the anxiety felt by the general population, a climate in which everyone speaks as loudly as they can, then they drop out, then come back again. 

 

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Karen M. Witczak writes about culture and travel on Karen 5.0. She has personal and professional experience in 45 countries as a consultant, diplomat, educator, researcher, and writer.

 

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