Wednesday, 5 December 2012

‘Four Seasons’ at The Venetian Hotel

The Red Priest himself - Antonio Vivaldi

Vivaldi is one of the most famous Venetians in history. As such his work has been at the forefront of some of the material created for the Lights Of Venice project at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas.
In choosing music for the piece “Canaletto”, a very modern visual celebration of that artist’s Venetian panoramas, I favoured parts of some of my favourite Vivaldi pieces, namely his Lute and Mandolin concertos.

The Four Seasons concerti are exceptional and innovative pieces of music, not only fulfilling expected conditions of form and structure but containing the creation of poetic scenes using music to suggest changes in weather conditions, animals, people. Today these works are often taken for granted as they are so well known but his use of melody & harmony and his contribution to chamber music is unique, his skill and imagination influenced other greats such as J. S. Bach.

The Four Seasons concerti were never far from our minds though and we had discussed presenting the natural turning of the year with his music for almost a year before this year’s 'Winter In Venice' theme gave us the opportunity to do so.

The Hotel wrote a story based on some traditional Winter legends from Italy including the figure of Befana. It was decided that a character, Amadora, as a goddess figure, was going to be depicted as being responsible for moving the year from one season to the next.
We saw this as a good marriage between their story and our theme and so our latest piece 'Four Seasons' was born.

The first part is a short introduction written based on harmonies found in the Winter concerto. After this introduction, the piece moves through each season until we get to Winter once more.
In re-arranging sections of each concerto I was keen to not remove its original soundworld of strings and harpsichord altogether but to take them and weave them closely to both Vivaldi’s seasonal inspirations and our visual ideas.

For ‘Spring’, Vivaldi created passages which mimic the sound of birdsong & I decided to explore those passages more deeply, to see just how closely those phrases match with real birdsong. This followed on from the experiment with the Nuthatch as part of the ‘Yorkshire’ section of “Rose” in 2010. Vivaldi's scoring matches birdsong construction closely. In my birdsong recordings, simple birdsong patterns found identical phrases in this passage. The result for our piece is a combination of flute & pizzicato strings weaving with bird recordings, building up a back and forth conversation against a background of April garden sounds I recorded in Naples, Pompeii and Herculaneum in 2011.

For Summer, I decided to focus on the section known as the Storm. The fast passages of the lower strings reminded me of the drone of buzzing bees and further investigation showed the register of those figures and actual bee sounds occupy the same range. I found a bee recording which buzzed on the tonic and the bee’s flight through Summer, complete with dandelion collisions came to be.

Autumn has time-honoured community based traditions of harvest, wine-making, fruit-gathering, preparing for winter. It seemed appropriate then to use ‘La Caccia” from that concerto and arrange it with a folk dance feel. The harpsichord & solo violin took position as main instruments & are driven by percussion from Renaissance drum samples and tambourine.
Vivaldi’s ability to paint the sense of bare fragility and icy cold in the opening of the Winter Concerto is a wonderful piece of musical soundscaping. I decided to take his scoring and put it in the hands of glass instruments of various origins, struck and bowed, layered to build each tone and sound very carefully.
An Ondes Martenot was used very simply, to provide a careful round toned bass line before the strings joined for the climactic moment where the theme begins. This accompanied a beautiful visual sequence of the Torre dell’Orologio gradually being frozen over, layer by layer, cold colours flashing over its new glassy surface.

‘Four Seasons’ runs at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas every night throughout the 2012/13 Winter season as part of the ‘Winter In Venice’ programme.