• Premiered Kristine Kolbinger, New England Conservatory of music, 1990. 21(+EH)1(in A)1 0000 hp vib solo vln str EB Marks/Presser Full Set

Twilight is a lyrical dialogue for violin and small orchestra, that takes as its starting point that time of day when daylight meets dusk, light meets shadow, and remnants of golden sun are enveloped in mists of the day’s end, dusk’s beginning and graying mists and shadows cooling the tops of golden hills.

The pastoral aura of this very early work brings to mind a poem by ee cummings the composer had set at in 1988, but never published:

all nearness pauses while a star can grow

The work Twilight, coincidentally the earliest published work of Michael Ellison, was composed in the midst of Ellison’s studies not only at the New England Conservatory of Music but also with the Indian vocal Master Pandit Pran Nath. Although any hint of raga per se is avoided in Twilight’s very diatonic, western material, one hidden influence of the east nevertheless appears in the work’s raison d’etre: a musical evocation of time of day.

Two flutes give a misty beginning, in terms of Ellison’s later style, a whiff of things to come.  Here it only lasts for a moment. The flutes mix mystically with harp and vibraphone colors as though in suspended time.  Then diatonic strings in 10ths—also ubiquitous in Ellison’s later music in more convoluted shapes but with extreme simplicity here, initiate a kind of modal, pure diatonicism that is central to the piece.  Out of this emerges the cantabile, understated violin melody.  Barely 20 and prior the harmonic leap forward represented in his next work, the String Quartet #1, far from being free from external influences, Ellison’s palette here contains strong whiffs of the previous fin de siècle, in particular Debussy and Vaughn Williams’ Lark Ascending, which the composer admits as one point of inspiration (along with the ‘ethereal’ contemporary sounds of the 4AD label group the Cocteau Twins and the in-tune resonance he was discovering in raga).  The rustic, woodwind driven middle section with its fugato, the seventh harmonies, the poetic ending with the violin rising in stacked thirds to a C# over a C bass in particular–all recall pastoral English modal music, if in a harmonically original and more sensuous way (the element of stacked overtones and “sharpened” octaves in fact returns in many later pieces, including the Overture to Henry V, the Piano Trio and even the Turkish Concerto K. 219, each in its own manner.  What is at stake here for later works is the generation of complex, yet highly resonant sounds, and, though in essence a student work, what we see in Twilght is a portent of things to come, as well as a nascent spirit of pure joy. What is remarkable, in fact that, despite the work’s open, slightly lush harmonic language it remains innocent, miraculously never sinking into sentimentality.

Twilight’s form is in an arch shape; with a freely composed ‘reverse recapitulation’, and includes a cadenza which sets up a tremendous G (as flat 6) pedal point in its final stages, continuing exhilaratingly without a break into a closing, sweeping, fast section with the same diatonic ‘white note’ harmonies as before, now cascading circularly in conclusion, before the violin’s last suspended ascent into nothingness.

Winner, New England Conservatory Contemporary Ensemble Competition, 1990

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