Ted Hearne, Law of Mosaics (2012)

    Duration: 30 minutes
    Instrumentation: String orchestra
    Commissioned by Barlow Endowment for Music Composition for A Far Cry
    Premiered by A Far Cry on May 12, 2013, at the Gardner Museum in Boston, Mass.
    Publisher/copyright: Unsettlement Music

    The composer writes:

    “Thomas Jefferson went through the New Testament and removed all the miracles, leaving only the teachings.”

    “Meaning is a matter of adjacent data.”

    “The law of mosaics: how to deal with parts in the absence of wholes.”

    “These passages, along with many others, are appropriated from a variety of sources and arranged by David Shields into his 2010 book, Reality Hunger: A Manifesto. It is a patchwork treatise on art and digital culture, and is an inspiration for Law of Mosaics.

    “The musical material from the first movement, Excerpts from the middle of something, is lush and climactic — but it is also a fish out of water, removed from surrounding music that might help it be better contextualized. It could follow a tense build-up, or precede a climax and resolution, but instead we hear it repeated and revised. As the material circles in on itself, it begins to make sense on its own, but never really “goes” anywhere.

    “The second movement, Palindrome for Andrew Norman, is constructed entirely of samples lifted from other pieces of music. Each plays an important or climactic role in the piece from which it is lifted, but is used here as a single building block in the construction of a symmetrical (and rather arbitrary) formal structure: the palindrome. Each sample is altered from its original composition in some way: it may appear backward, or re-voiced, or as a canon with itself, but an element of its essential character is always preserved. Andrew Norman is a contemporary composer from New York whose 2010 string trio The Companion Guide to Rome is heard among the many snippets of source material in this movement.

    “In some way, the rich history of works written for the string orchestra informs and influences every performance by every individual string orchestra active today, whether they choose to perform those works or not. Climactic moments from Adagio for Strings and The Four Seasons, slowed down and layered on top of one another explores what can happen when two “staples” of the repertoire (likely to be found on a Best Classical Hits CD) are stretched out and mashed up.

    “The fourth movement, Beats, is driven by noise, punk and electronic music more than classical music influences. A simple and clear form is filled with music that plays with the space between pitch and non-pitched sound. Climactic moments from movement three, three times as slow as before is simply a reframing of music you have already heard.

    “The warp and woof refers to the lengthwise (warp) and crosswise (woof) threads that together create the texture and foundation of a woven fabric. It is a fitting end for a piece that imagines the framing of musical content to be as integral to the structure of a work as the way that content is framed.”

    About the composer:

    Composer, singer and bandleader Ted Hearne draws on a wide breadth of influences ranging across music’s full terrain, to create intense, personal and multi-dimensional works. The New York Times has praised Hearne for his “tough edge and wildness of spirit,” and “topical, politically sharp-edged works.”

    Hearne’s newest theatrical work, The Source, sets text from the Iraq and Afghanistan War Logs, along with words by Chelsea Manning (the U.S. Army private who leaked those classified documents to Wikileaks); it premiered to rave reviews in October 2014 at the BAM Next Wave Festival in Brooklyn, directed by Daniel Fish.

    His piece Katrina Ballads, another modern-day oratorio with a primary-source libretto, was awarded the 2009 Gaudeamus Prize in composition and was named one of the best classical albums of 2010 by Time Out Chicago and The Washington Post.

    Law of Mosaics, Hearne’s 30-minute piece for string orchestra, will see performances this year by the San Francisco Symphony and Chicago Symphony Orchestra. His album of the same name, with Andrew Norman and A Far Cry, was named one of The New Yorker‘s Notable Recordings of 2014 by Alex Ross.

    Hearne’s most recent collaboration paired him with Erykah Badu, for whom he wrote an evening-length work combining new music with creative arrangements of songs from Badu’s 2008 album New Amerykah: Part One. Premiered by Badu with Alan Pierson and the Brooklyn Philharmonic at BAM in two sold-out performances, the work was met with instant acclaim. The New York Times praised the “rich harmony and tonal range and pulsation” of the new compositions, while The L Magazine called the show “a real triumph … together, it was a masterpiece of performance — a singer, orchestra and arranger not only at their bests but also perfectly fused.”

    Hearne performs/composes with Philip White as the vocal-electronics duo R WE WHO R WE, and their debut album (eponymous, New Focus Recordings) was called “eminently, if weirdly, danceable and utterly gripping” (Time Out Chicago). His work as a singer extends from the techniques explored in his own music to the music of his contemporaries, having recently performed songs by Timo Andres and Matt Marksand roles in avant-garde operas such as Jacob Cooper’s Timberbrit and James Ilgenfritz’s The Ticket That Exploded. Two new albums of Hearne’s vocal music, The Source and Outlanders, will be released in 2015 on New Amsterdam Records.

    Recent and upcoming commissions include orchestral works for the San Francisco Symphony, Los Angeles Philharomic, New World Symphony, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and A Far Cry, chamber works for eighth blackbird, Living Earth Show, Yarn/Wire and the Flux Quartet, and vocal works for Volti, The Crossing and Roomful of Teeth.

    For eight years, Hearne was the resident conductor of the Red Light Ensemble, and he has recently conducted the Wet Ink Ensemble, TILT Brass, Ensemble Pamplemousse, and International Contemporary Ensemble. He has served as music director for the world premiere of theatrical works by David Lang and Michael Gordon and conducted the American premieres of works by Beat Furrer, Simon Steen-Andersen and Enno Poppe.

    Hearne received the Charles Ives Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2013, the ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Award in 2008 and 2012, and commissions from the Barlow Endowment and Fromm Foundation. He was twice an artist in residence at The MacDowell Colony and Chicago’s High Concept Laboratories, and has collaborated with composer J.G. Thirlwell, jazz musician René Marie, harpist/composer Zeena Parkins and filmmaker Bill Morrison. Hearne also comprises one-sixth of the composer collective, Sleeping Giant.

    He was awarded the 2014 New Voices Residency from Boosey & Hawkes, and recently joined the composition faculty at the University of Southern California. He attended Manhattan School of Music and Yale School of Music, and has studied with Martin Bresnick, Aaron Jay Kernis, Ezra Laderman, David Lang, Nils Vigeland and Julia Wolfe.

    AUDIO: To listen to or purchase on iTunes Ted Hearne’s Law of Mosaics, as performed by A Far Cry, click here.