Gabriel Bolanos ()
Gabriel Bolanos ()
Pacific Suite (2016) is a four-movement work for solo piano composed by the author of this paper, Holly Kordahl, that incorporates elements of several musical idioms, including Impressionism, tintinnabuli (as in the music of Arvo Pärt), post-modernism, minimalism and improvisation. This Doctorate of Musical Arts project consists of a descriptive paper, analysis, score and recording. The piece features varying levels of performer independence and improvisation along with notated music. Each movement is named after a different environment of the Pacific Ocean: Great Barrier Reef, Mariana Trench, Sunlit Zone, and Bikini Atoll.
Pacific Suite is engaging to mature pianists and accessible to students. The score of Pacific Suite is a blank canvas in some ways; almost all dynamics, tempi, pedaling, and fingerings are to be determined by the performer. The first movement, Great Barrier Reef, presents different musical vignettes. The second movement, Mariana Trench, requires the performer to improvise extensively while following provided instructions. The third movement, Sunlit Zone, asks the performer to improvise on a theme of Debussy. The final movement, Bikini Atoll, illustrates events of nuclear testing at Bikini Atoll in the 1940s.
Patterns and Soundscapes explores the concept album format, popularized in the late 1960s and into modern times by artists such as the Who, Pink Floyd, and Frank Zappa. Specifically, I sought to adapt this format as a compositional process aimed towards the completion of a large-scale work that can be presented in album format and live performance. Further influenced by the concept album, I sought to create pieces consisting of similar musical techniques, motivic ideas, and harmonic language, so that each piece could be performed on its own or be combined as a multi-movement work.
I began writing this work in the spring of 2019, with “Colored Red Currents” for string quartet and “Conspiracy Wall” for two drum sets. After realizing that both pieces had a similar sound and style, I began to consider how they could function within an album format, and how they could also work together to form a large-scale musical work. I then decided that each subsequent piece, in addition to being composed of similar musical ideas, would be written in a manner that allowed for seamless transitions between the end of one and the beginning of another, and would also introduce the instrumentation making up the full ensemble in the last movement.
This work begins with the sparkling and rapid string quartet, “Colored Red Currents,” then moves to the energetic and groove based “Conspiracy Wall” for two drum sets, the meditative “Interlude” for solo viola and electronics, and the quick and mechanical “Beat Frequency” for alto saxophone, bass clarinet, and electronics. The work ends with “ALL IN,” where the full ensemble is finally formed, and all of the patterns and soundscapes come together to form a bombastic and wild finale.
It is not a tremendous exaggeration to suggest the world almost ended on September
26, 1983. At the command center for the Soviet Union's Oko nuclear early warning
system a report came in stating that six hostile missiles were launched from the United
States. The commanding officer at the center, Stanislav Petrov, was convinced that the
missiles were a false alarm, and indeed the Oko system had malfunctioned. Petrov was
justified in reporting the attack to his superiors, which would have likely resulted in
retaliatory strikes from the Soviet Union, leading to nuclear war. This relatively obscure,
but immensely important moment in history is the inspiration for Alarm.
This work is not a direct retelling of Petrov's story, but a musical journey imagining the
many emotions this man must have been feeling. The piece is also not a look at the
Cold War politics surrounding the event, but a study of a choice, one of massive
consequences. The most significant element in Alarm is tension. The goal of the
opening statement of the piece, played by the brass, is to immediately transport the
listener into this world on the edge. This motive is developed throughout the work, and
serves as a binding agent as the music evolves. Another crucial element is the
oscillating staccato notes usually played by high-pitched instruments. This is implying
stress one might feel- whether it be an alarm going off or time running out. As the piece
seems to reach its breaking point just past the halfway mark, Petrov makes his choice.
The final part of the work is decidedly more peaceful, emphasized by the "Tranquillo"
and "Calmo" descriptors, but there is a consistent dark undertone to Alarm. Petrov's
story is bittersweet- he is a hero, but his accomplishments were swept under the rug by
Soviet leadership, humiliated by their nuclear system's failure. The near disaster in 1983
has barely been addressed by the world at large, even as the threat of nuclear war
seems to fade. When the next nuclear crisis arises, what choices will be made?