Ashley Venegas; 2/25/19
Chorus of Light (Premiered in December 2003)
One-movement work for Wind Ensemble and voice
While I had briefly listened to a few of Kevin Puts’ compositions, I found Chorus of Light to be intriguing enough for a personal perspective. The given title is mindful of the composition as the entrance of the delicate glockenspiel, bowed percussion, and sparkling (tremolo) woodwinds evoke an ethereal and otherworldly atmosphere; the range of the instruments, around the mid to upper register, has a brightness that is suggestive of cascading light streams from cloudy skies. There are points where a chorus is softly singing and the accompanying instruments blend in with gentle flutters of tones. In contrast, there are moments of high and low brass that introduce a mix of broad ranges and triumphant fanfares that are rhythmically fast-paced when compared to the sustained notes found at the beginning of the work. Interestingly, the composer seems to have the performing musicians sing right after a righteous fanfare that allows the work to “settle” from its previous intensity. Speaking in terms of the timbre, Puts seems willing to include all types of voices and instruments into his composition realm (possibly contras included), but is careful in his selection to allow for each voice to be presented as essential to the overall quality of the work’s sound.
While I felt as if there was no exact, traditional form for this work, there were generally two sections that had contrasting texture, timbre, and dynamics that resembled an “a” and “b” pattern. The beginning of the piece introduced serene, long tones, and pandiatonic chords with imitative motives strung along from one woodwind to another. The texture of this “a” section feels weightless as the chords are sustained for long rhythmic durations that provide a homophonic sound as the melody floats above the tremolo accompaniment. The “b” section is rhythmically active and has a rich texture of polyphony as the brass, woodwinds, and percussion interact together. A six-note canon becomes a motive between winds instruments and the use of a minor key creates a heavy environment, along with the thick textures from rhythmic diminution and augmentation. When referring to dynamics, the “a” sections are considerably softer and they gradually crescendo into each “b” section until there is a high point that is lead back into an “a” section with a steady decrescendo. The work features several large crescendos and decrescendos with contrasting styles that further highlight the overall tension-release contour of the work.
In comparison to classical Western music, I felt as though Puts’ composition veered away from traditional standards and may be placed alongside impressionistic music. In a response to forms, the transitions from each section were more of a style or timbre change (including voice) as there was never a moment of rest nor a strong sense of finalized cadences. Even though there are spots of similarity between the sections-motives reappearing throughout the work-the music develops and strives to keep its audience entertained with constant tension and release points. While Western music is categorized into forms, the sections I labeled as “a” and “b” (as shown above) have such particular colors and tonality within separate sections that I do not fully associate it with traditional classical forms. Perhaps the use of polyphony and canons might have some reminiscence of classical music, along with general use of instrumental ranges, but the overall composition did not have straightforward/traditional harmonies and cadences.
Puts’ compositional technique creates a unique timbral effect like some 20th-century and current century tonality. A few years ago, I performed Millennium Canons by Kevin Puts and noticed that he does seem to incorporate similar composition styles into his other works such as his use of imitation. The titles of his works are rather accurate (at least in these two works) in the depiction of the music’s scenes, and he often builds tension by presenting contrasting sections (as shown above) in succession. Puts’ compositions show a level of detail to the aural effect that it presents to its audience, one that transforms the atmosphere and evokes emotions. To me, the expressive nature that Puts presents in his music also reminds me of the currently famous composer, Eric Whitacre.
Though I found this piece enjoyable within moments of listening to it, I find that one listening is simply not enough time nor chances to give any type of composition its “due” time. Each listening of Chorus of Light has something “new” that my ears had not either appreciated or even recognized from my first full listening of the work. I heard it without headphones on my computer and was unable to discern certain timbres and textures within the work. When I decided to use headphones, the overall timbres and transformations were amplified and given a new sense of direction to my perception of it. In any case, if I were to listen to a work that I did not initially enjoy, there may be places that I might admire in respects to its compositional techniques or I may simply become fond of it with enough aural exposure.
– Ashley Venegas
“Chorus of Light.” YouTube video, 11:57. Posted by “Showa Wind Symphony,” March 1, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eho-FMVtcD4