Dance Rhapsody (2010)
Second Place Winner, 2011 American Prize in Orchestral Composition

Dance Rhapsody is a single movement, 16-minute work for full orchestra, inspired by and incorporating various dance rhythms. It won second place in the 2011 American Prize in Orchestral Composition.

The piece consists of several strongly rhythmic dance sections interspersed with two slower, nonrhythmic interludes, which serve as both contrast to and transition between the dance sections, laid out as follows:

Waltz - Interlude 1 - Slow Tango - Fast Tango - Slow Tango Reprise - Interlude 2 - Fandango

Dance Rhapsody opens with isolated notes strewn among various sections of the orchestra, shortly coalescing into what is recognizably a waltz rhythm. Two different melodies try on the waltz for size, the first in the woodwinds and the second in the strings. After a brief silence, the first melody tries again, followed by yet a third melody, in the flute. The second melody, first heard forte in the strings, is now played piano by the clarinets, but with a difference: instead of the regular 3-beat waltz rhythm, some measures are shortened to 2 beats, producing an occasional rhythmic hitch, or short-legged effect. The passage quickly builds to the first real climax of the piece, which just as quickly subsides to a return of the opening fractured rhythm. The solo violin reminisces on the third waltz melody to a quiet accompaniment, which leads without pause to the first Interlude. This interlude is more pensive music, musing on aspects of material previously heard, but without a strong rhythmic profile, and features solos by the clarinet and bass clarinet.

After a brief climax, a pointed rhythm takes over and ushers in the first of two tangos. The accompaniment, which includes a characteristic accented upbeat before each measure and more than a hint of habanera, has a definite Latin flavor. The melody, heard first in the clarinets and then the violins, has a Viennese lilt to it, giving the music something of a “Mahler in South America” feel. Suddenly the pace quickens and a more energetic and sharper, asymmetric rhythm takes hold, punctuated by growling swoops in the double basses. The melodic material in this second tango, heard first in the violins, is related to the earlier, slower tango, but produces a very different effect, being much more fully “Latinized”. The horns rudely interrupt the proceedings with a growling swoop of their own, and after a moment of indecision, the tango proceeds in a much subdued manner. But the spirit of the music cannot be suppressed for long, and soon breaks out into full voice. After the climax subsides, the Slow Tango returns, now with its own variety of rhythmic hitch: many measures have either missing half-beats, or extra beats, producing a pronounced off-kilter effect. Presently this music dissolves into the second Interlude, marked Adagio, which begins with a melody of noble character in the solo horn accompanied by quiet tremolo strings. The intensity builds to a brief climax, a quiet brass chorale is heard, and the music of the first Interlude is recalled.

As the music comes to a near-standstill, the pace suddenly quickens and once again a distinct rhythm takes hold, ushering in the final and most colorful dance, Fandango. Much of this music alternates between the meters of 6/8 and 3/4, producing a constantly shifting metrical accent. After a short introduction, the oboe plays a melody with a strong duple meter feel, creating a polyrhythmic effect against the accompaniment in the strings. The other woodwinds join in and build to an initial climax. This is followed by an extended quiet passage with the character of a development section, in which the strings and woodwinds explore the implications of introducing a 5/8 meter into the mix (grouped unpredictably as either 3+2 or 2+3), interspersed with fragments of the main melody in the brass. Eventually a rush of notes in the strings brings on a full-blown version of the melody in the trumpets and upper woodwinds, with the rest of the orchestra providing a wild and unfettered accompaniment. The music appears to revert to the opening of the Fandango, but quickly veers into a short and raucous coda. A frenzied reference to the second Waltz melody rushes by, and the piece ends with a flourish.

Dance Rhapsody was commissioned by the Palo Alto Philharmonic, and was written between December 2009 and February 2010.

— Lee Actor

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