instrumentation: violin and piano

duration: 18 minutes

First performance: MingHuan-Xu and Winston Choi, October 19, 2019—Unity Temple, Oak Park, IL.

(excerpt - mvt. I)

as light becomes form
for violin and piano

This piece is a musical response to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple, the building which inspired the work, and where the first performance took place. While thinking about this iconic struture, and after studying and visiting different FLW buildings and homes, I became particularly interested in the architect’s approach to lighting design. Light takes a special meaning in religious settings, and the symbolism is explicit in Unity Temple—light that mostly shines from above, the contrast between shadowy and lit spaces, the subtle stained glass colors that reflects nature, etc. In lieu of religious symbols and imagery—common to the Unitarian tradition—Wright creates an impactful iconography of light.

Throughout my piece, I try to translate different qualities of light and properties of Wright’s architecture into sound. Light is generally explored as varying in volume (through loudness of sound), brightness (through timbre, explored through overtone content in the violin), and as having different shadings and color (through harmony and resonance of the piano).

The guiding principle for the first movement is built on Wright’s technique of compression/release—narrow entrances that open dramatically to bright and tall rooms. The music is a prelude, and follows a procedure where individual notes are first held by the violin, and is later joined by the piano to contrast with a series of intricate and hypnotic textures.

The much larger second movement is inspired by the ceiling of Unity Temple’s main worship space, and particularly by the 25 coffers and their unique stained glass pattern. All of these panels (or lightscreens, as Wright called them) are identical, and variety derives from rotating their placement each time. The music in this movement presents a “lightscreen theme”, a series of simple objects that are “filtered” and radiated as a sheen of piano resonance. At first the objects in the theme are simply reshuffled, and later proceed by organically expanding each individual component over the course of 25 variations.

The work is dedicated with admiration to MingXuan Xu and Winston Choi, and was made possible by a grant from the Fromm Music Foundation.
© 2018 Igor Santos. All Rights Reserved.

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