Lo for Violin and Orchestra

Caroline Shaw

Yeah, I am a composer. I’m also a lot of other things, a lot of other nouns. So I feel like if there was going to be one noun that was used, it doesn’t seem like the right one. It’s just a matter of taxonomy the way things are categorized. It wasn’t necessarily a reaction to not wanting to relinquish the control, because — come on — we’re all a little bit obsessive. Musician just encapsulates what I am a little better, I think.

Caroline Shaw

Feb 9, 2015

In 2013, when the ISO joined with New Amsterdam recordings in New York for a two year residency, some of the works by Son Lux were presented, which had been arranged by Caroline Shaw, William Britelle, and Daniel Wohl. At the opening of the Sydney and Louis Eskenazi Hospital, Caroline Shaw’s vocal piece From Rivers was featured with the Indianapolis Children’s Choir.  It is a pleasure to hear from her again in her new Lo for Violin and Orchestra on this concert. The concerto was co-commissioned by the ISO.

Caroline Shaw, singer, violinist, and composer, burst into public view when she was the youngest recipient to win a Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2013 with Partita for Eight Voices, written for the vocal ensemble “A Roomful of Teeth.” A glimpse at this work can be a preview of her imaginative, unique style, which emerges in in the Lo for Violin and Orchestra. It is her first orchestral work.

In a review “The Strange, Beautiful Music that Won the Pulitzer this year” Bryan Lowder noted, “Caroline Shaw eschews stuffiness for a more millennial-friendly dialect. Indications like “mixy”, “floaty head voice” and “plainchant-ish improve on these two pitches loosely guide the singers through the score-thingy.” As in the Lo for Violin and Orchestra, she references the past. Herein she weaves and evokes a seamless tapestry of baroque references, (her suite opens with an allemande, and continues with a sarabande, courante, and passacaglia) connected to modern geometrical instruction art, specifically “Wall Drawing 305” of Sol LeWitt. Although she can be considered avant-garde, she preserves and values elements from musical history. In this regard, she weaves masterful relationships between modern thinking and the past, allowing the past not only to be “quoted” but also to be operational within the musical context. And, she can be shocking. The courante, for example, “describes” angel sex.  Herein, the music glides easily between plainchant, faux electronic timbres, “whispers, grunts, croaks, sighs, gasps” and the spoken word, successfully following one of her guidelines: to write as if “silk shoes [were] gliding over marble mosaic.”

She has achieved powerful, modern communication in the ever-intriguing relationship between sound, language, extra-musical inspiration, and music making.  In this, she is spellbinding.  This is the effect of her new Lo for Violin and Orchestra, which premiered on March 16, 2015, the composer as soloist, in a collaborative concert with the Cincinnati Symphony and MusicNOW.

Acquiescing to her desire to be identified as a musician, it is also fair to say that her compositions have become inevitably and intrinsically a part of her musical persona. However, Ms. Shaw states, “ I don’t call it a concerto. It’s a piece for a lot of players and I’m going to play the violin…. The solo part is just vaguely written out, only the parts that they really need. A lot is left open, and some parts I’m actually going to play with the first violins the way you would with a Mozart, where you have the option of playing the tutti parts.  You know, I didn’t think that I would ever write for orchestra.  But I’m glad to have had the opportunity.” As Partita for Eight Voices was linked to the past, so also is her two movement Lo for Violin and Orchestra. Mary Ellyn Hutton reviewing that performance quoted Ms. Shaw: “Lo is laced with gestures to my favorite music” she stated.

The two-movement concerto opens with the violin singing solo, merging with the orchestra both improvisationally and with written melodic fragments. Orchestral color is beautifully and uniquely scored, including a brass chorale combined with pounding drum, for example, in one of the sound blocks. Throughout, the soloist remains in the limelight, departing and entering throughout the work, which also includes a delicate cadenza. Its rhythmic changes are particularly fascinating, and these occur frequently yet are

never disrupting to the fluidity of her concept. Again, as in the Partita, she has created a musical experience, which is not only unique but also intensely moving and engaging.

This is the first time the ISO has performed Shaw’s Lo for Violin and Orchestra, and co-commissioned by the FSO, the North Caroline Symphony, the Princeton Symphony, and the Cincinnatti Symphony.

© Marianne Williams Tobias, Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, 2016

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Program Notes