For large orchestra * 

Duration: ca. 25 minutes 

Premiere: 17 May 2014, Vienna Musikverein, Großer Saal, Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Semyon Bychkov (also 18 and 19 May 2014)

Asian premiere: 24 September 2014, in Tokyo's Suntory Hall, Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Gustavo Dudamel

Further performances: 24 August 2014, Salzburg Festival, Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Gustavo Dudamel; 9 September 2014, Grafenegg

American premiere: 24 February 2017, New York


* 4 flutes (with III and IV doubling on alto flutes and piccoli); 2 oboes; 1 English horn; 4 clarinets (IV doubles on bass clarinet); 2 bassoons; 1 contrabassoon; 4 horns; 4 trumpets; 4 trombones (IV = contrabass trombone); 2 tubas (in the fourth movement the tubists also play samba pipes); 4 percussionists (see below); 2 harps; celeste; piano (grand piano); 14 violins I; 12 violins II; 10 violas; 8 cellos; 8 basses

Percussion disposition:
I. Timpani, suspended cymbals, roto-toms, One Handed Triangle
II. Roto-toms, triangle, crotales, tambourine, sleigh bells, snare drum, timbales, 2 tom-toms, shake
III. Vibraphone, xylophone, bass drum, 2 snare drums, hi-hat, cencerro, 5 temple blocks
IV. Tam-tam, bass drum, switch, cymbals, chocolho, maracas, One Handed Triangle

 

Introduction:

A special aspect of time, the aspect of time’s recurrence, served as inspiration for my work. For human understanding time cannot be reversed: its arrow points in only one direction.

While doing this, I didn’t want to get into fantasies about time machines, such as can be found in some (particularly older Hollywood) science fiction films.

Much more interesting for me is what we can ourselves experience in reality. Four instances appear to me to yield enough to justify dealing with them in music:

  1. Viewing the stars through a telescope is always a look into the past, since their light takes a long time to reach us.
  2. The phenomenon of repetition is also a phenomenon of recurrence.
  3. Human memory is the way our mind has to keep the past alive and to experience it anew.
  4. Nowadays, history and the present are united in the Internet. Here time is abolished in several senses: we can apparently have access to our entire past and also influence the future.

These thoughts led me to the concept of a work comprising two large sections, each of which contains two movements played without interruption.

The first part brings us the movements:

I. Déjà vu and
II. Perpetua mobilia.

The idea exists that the human individual in its development from birth to death (ontogenesis) lives through the complete evolution of its own species, perhaps also all of organic evolution, perhaps also that of matter in the universe—therefore the astronomical view of time and the past. The composition is here inspired by the theory of the »Big Bang« (which has in the meantime come to be doubted in some quarters) and attempts to trace this through the evolution of a specific kind of harmony in the various layers of the first movement.

The piece begins with a chain reaction of small successive explosions, which unfold the basic harmonic material: three five-voice chords and their various inversions. This material is presented on two harmonic tiers. The strings play twelve-tone chords, which fluctuate in their sound and exhibit »breathing« movements. These are built up through the layering of the three five-voice chords. Through the acoustic distortion resulting from the use of heavy metal mutes, which dampen the chords into the pianissimo zone, these structures are perceived as a kind of background radiation that remains present throughout almost all of the entire movement.

Over this, the winds slowly develop more concrete figures. Starting out from the individual intervals of the three five-part chords, now serving as basic cells, these strive towards contiguous five-tone structures, which then fold in upon themselves to build new structures of increasing density, comprising at first seven and then up to twelve pitches.

A cadenza in fifths and fourths played by the piano is a defining event within this development. It stands at a significant point, dividing two threads of harmonic evolution. It clamps the first part onto the second, where a combination of fourths and fifths (albeit of another kind—see below) will also be used as a form-building element.

In the second movement, the phenomenon of repetition is represented by three recurring rhythmic objects, each of which comprises seven to twelve sounds in different groupings. These appear together at first, then separate from one another and finally drift apart, as if continuously increasing their distance from one another. Throughout this, the harmony, functioning like a prism, makes the objects appear in changing lights. This is emphasized by the dynamics, which increasingly distance the events from the listener.

An exceptional one-measure acoustic event reverses this dissipation of the groups and influences the gravity of events in such a manner that the objects rapidly move onto one another and then mutually extinguish themselves. Rhythm and harmony melt into a single rapidly pulsating cluster, which is then abruptly swallowed up by silence, as if by a »black hole«.

This second movement consists of a net of indirect retrograde constructions, which are built out of parts of the harmonic development in the last part of the previous movement. Here the double harmony is enhanced into triple harmony, since each of the three groups expresses itself not only with an individual rhythm, but also with its individual harmony.

The first movement renders acoustically the appearance of matter out of pure energy, which astrophysicists believe first developed out of radio waves. The second movement commences with what seems at first to be mathematical sobriety. But it is not immune to transformations, those coming out of its own structure as well as those called forth by events (such as the previously mentioned one measure) that come from outside.

In the second part the movements

III Memories and
IV Global Village are united.

The contrasting effect of the two large sections of Time Recycling is brought about first of all by the fundamentally different applications of harmony. In the first part a continuous intensification of the harmonic means takes place, whereas the second part then presents a looser and lighter tissue. This is already evident with the opening G—B interval of the third movement, which can be understood in different ways—until the augmented triads of the movement’s »Quasi Berceuse« first section, with their swaying harmonic structure, enter and give that G—B interval its definite harmonic meaning. The instrumentation also serves to further the transparency of the sound. In the first part, the sound was grounded on massive concentrations, particularly those of the winds. In the second part a differentiation of the sound appears, at first within the strings, then through the inclusion of soli (vibraphone, celeste, strings).

Lullabies are associated with experiences of early childhood, and with one’s origins. The steady swaying movement of these songs is traditionally presented in 2/4 or 6/8 time. A species of these traditional lullabies provides the framework for the first and most important section of this movement, which is entitled Memories.

It contains two further elements which recur several times, as in a rondo: firstly one associated with the experience of nature (forest, air, wind, water), which sets the tone for a lattice-like string structure in rapid sixteenth-note movement. Nature is seen here as if through the view of a recounter of fairy tales.

Beside this, a transition characterized by tritones in the winds serves as a joint that combines the thematic blocks.

The third movement generally reveals itself as a new formulation of what was found in the first large section of the first movement: the building of five-voice chords out of the required interval cells. In the first movement the five-voice chords appeared as the end result of a process. Here the tones that embellish the five-voice chords take on different functions. In the Berceuse these additional tones embellish the thematic and melodic material; in the »nature« section they drive the harmonic and modulatory aspect; with the tritones of the transitional joints they take on a rudimentary contrapuntal function.

In this movement the five-voice chords are not an end point. Through their interval structures, they shape the process. In the Berceuse major thirds are prevalent, and are then expanded to augmented triads. In the Nature section, the minor sixth (complementary interval to the major third) dominates. The transition between these sections is built out of tritones, which are on their part subdivided into minor thirds, so that in this transitional section diminished triads also appear.

The role of the tritone in counterpoint points towards the heart of the movement. This is felt and modeled upon the Gregorian chorale, even though the choice of intervals also incorporates Oriental traditions. It builds, in a staircase-like pattern, a homophonic harmonic construction upon the basic framework of the melody, a harmonic construction resting upon the basis of the familiar five-voice chords. In the last movement, this chorale, as cantus firmus, will become a structure-building force, together with the harmony built up in the first movement.

In the choral music of the Middle Ages it was customary to duplicate monophonic melodies in octaves, and also in fifths and fourths. The avoidance of the sound of the tritone (»diabolus in musica«) led at first to the style of organum and then to a great occidental achievement, real polyphony. At the beginning of the fourth movement, this development, which lasted over 500 years, is presented in speeded-up motion.

Parodies, the movement’s subtitle, refers to the practice of incorporating found objects, removed from their original context, into other works. Techniques of superimposition, distortion, contrast, fusion of different tonalities, as well as the integration of modal systems and atonality enable the meeting of heterogeneous elements: signals (bells and subways), the hubbub of festivals and carnivals (Samba-Batucada), song and dance forms (chanson, blues, bossa nova, joropo, minuet), works of other composers, and things suggesting fanfares and folk music. These culminate in a »hymn to love« reminiscent of an eastern European wedding dance.

This final section—the »hymn to love«—is built upon the descending fifth E—A. Upon its conclusion—the wedding dance—the note D is added, whereby the ascending fifths or descending fourths D—A—E, sometimes as pedal point, provide the work’s harmonic closure. A reminiscence of the harmonic development of the first movement appears over these fifth structures as a polyphonic chorale.

Within the overall course of the piece, diverse processes lead from five-voice harmony to a twelve-tone field. Fusions and contrasts are methodically applied, whereby the fourth- and fifth-based structures often have a special role. This unites the movements, which are otherwise different in form and character.

The continual intertwining of the thoughts staked out in the first part with those of the second corresponds to a permanent interpenetration of past, present, and future, one that conforms to the sense and meaning of the work.

My composition was also inspired by the diverse capabilities of the members of the Vienna Philharmonic, as well as by the prospect of working together with two significant conductors. My impressions of Semyon Bychkov influenced the construction of the first movement and the lyrical passages of the third. The motoric rhythms of the second movement and some Latin American dance elements of the final movement were inspired by Gustavo Dudamel. (René Staar, September 20, 2013)

 

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Reviews of the premiere in the Vienna Musikverein on 17 May 2014


He is violinist, conductor, teacher of music—and composer as well. René Staar wrote up the score of Time Recycling (op. 22n), a work commissioned by the Vienna Philharmonic, where he, as regular member of the orchestra, plays in the second violins. This weekend, at the concert given yearly by the orchestra in honor of its founder Otto Nicolai, the work was premiered under the direction of Semyon Bychkov. It thematicizes the re-experiencing of moments from the past. After a ceremonial opening, transcendental string sounds lead into a dream world, one nourished by memory. An action that initially seems harmless soon develops into catastrophe and the first part of the composition ends as if one were waking sweat-drenched out of a nightmare. The longer second part is more cheerful: it reflects the experiences of a well-traveled bon vivant, including a relaxed cocktail in a jazz bar, a samba blast, and a night in the Caribbean. These are like moveable pieces of scenery, and in the Musikverein they moved the orchestra to an evident joy of playing. String basses rotate, there are shouts and dances. Grief and joy lie close to one another, as in a dream.

wienerzeitung.at, 19 May 2014, Stephan Burianek

 

It might not pass through ALL of music history, but the stylistic diversity in René Staar’s Time Recycling op. 22 is still considerable. Performed in the Vienna Musikverein as part of the orchestra’s yearly Otto Nicolai commemoration concert, the premiere began quite roughly, until the strings, in gloomy tone colors, established a structure upon which groups of winds and percussion then commented. One perceives connections to the Second Viennese School, hears also gestures of late modernism (repetitive patterns, group glissandi), and then experiences in the finale an unexpected twist.
The Philharmonic, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, turns here into a salon orchestra in dancing spirits, a virtual relative of the Simón Bolívar orchestra, with hearty show elements being used in a discreetly humorous manner. Time Recycling is a dazzling journey from the dusky gloom of modernism to the light of light-heartedness.

derStandard.at, 19 May 2014, Ljubisa Tosic

 

Staar’s work is charged with déjà-vu experiences. In the course of four movements, the composer invokes primordial orchestral experiences ranging from the bliss of Brahmsian thirds and sixths to Bernstein and to the rhythmic orgies of Stravinsky. Now and then it sounds like a skewed variant of the Symphonic Dances from West Side Story. The audience enjoyed this. Seldom has a premiere—in a »Philharmonic« context, at that—received so much applause.
Semyon Bychkov, of whom Staar thought when writing the lyrical moments, saw to it that the Philharmonic’s premiere performance also beautifully brought out the still moments that spread out like gentle acoustic carpets.

Die Presse, print edition, 19 May 2014, sin

 

The Vienna Philharmonic is playing in the Musikverein, and on the podium stands Semyon Bychkov, certainly one of the best conductors of our time. […]
René Staar—whose usual »trademark« is that of a violinist in this orchestra—calls his new work Time Recycling. It was of course also inspired by the orchestra’s qualities and was acclaimed at its premiere, the reason being that Staar is naturally familiar with the Viennese sound tradition and wrote for »his« orchestra as if to order. Staar has composed a very accessible and listenable work, garnished with beautiful conscious quotes from the history of music, classical in its four-movement layout. The string basses rotate in jazzy spirals. One hears Latin American rhythms and also chorales. The Philharmonic and Bychkov were terrific.

kurier.at, 18 May 201

 

Reviews of the performances at the Salzburg Festival, 23 and 24 August 2014:

[…]»Déjà vu« is the title of the first of four sections. Wisps of memory emerge out of the fog, become more distinct, and then sink back. […] In the second half the piece the piece tilts into the grotesque, playing with fragments of memories. […] Staar whirls diverse dances into one another and brings about high spirits. Such musical delight is rare nowadays.

Salzburger Nachrichten, 25 August 2014, Ernst P. Strobl

 

[…] The Vienna Philharmonic can after all dance its way out of its composure. […] With his Time Recycling op. 22 its violinist member René Staar has written a work that touches upon many stylistic worlds, a work where European modernism also unfolds in rich shapes and contrasts. Towards the end he prescribes a journey into the world of entertainment, beginning with a melancholy South American cantilena of the first violins. The subsequent thumping gaiety of the percussion animates the string basses to risk a bit of dancing with their instruments.

Der Standard, 25 August 2014, Ljubisa Tosic

 

When Gustavo Dudamel and the Vienna Philharmonic play Richard Strauss’ Death and Transfiguration and Thus Spoke Zarathustra, success is certain. […] It was therefore all the more surprising that a modern work provoked the most applause, and deservedly so. Time Recycling is a four-movement work by the Philharmonic violinist René Staar, the first member of the orchestra to be commissioned by his colleagues to write an orchestral piece. […] It is indeed full of technically difficult passages and rhythmic refinements for which one needs well-versed musicians and a sovereign conductor. In the first three movements, Time Recycling is pleasing and comprehensible. Rhythms drive with uncommon insistence, while motives are varied and original; this piece definitely demonstrates technical skill. […] In the fourth movement, titled »Global Village«, Staar shows his interest in the sounding present and also in humor that one would not have expected in a festival concert of the Vienna Philharmonic in the large hall of the Salzburg Festival, the Holy Grail of the classics.
A jazz combo suddenly cuts through. One hears a bossa nova, and then comes a »philharmonic« country carnival. The bass players move out, screeching and clowning, whirling their »big boxes« around the stage. The winds play uncouth sounds; wind and air instead of tone, and the first violins (standing) give the impression of never having known that they were playing in the Salzburg Festival hall. Some of the musicians seem to have really enjoyed doing this. Shouts of »bravo« and »encore« for a work premiered only three months previously—we could dare to say that something like this has never before happened at the Salzburg Festival. It was about time.

Tiroler Zeitung online

 

Review of the performance in Grafenegg on 7 September 2014:

This is the piece where the musicians dare to take on a little dance, thanks to the Philharmonic a grandiose and gripping finale to the music festival in Grafenegg.
[…] René Staar’s Time Recycling was premiered this May, with great success. It is the work of a violinist in the Philharmonic, commissioned by his own orchestra. Tiny elements of superimposed five-voice chords pile up to a twelve-tone chord, then, in the second movement, drift apart from one another and disappear as if into a black hole in the galaxy.
While the first half was devoted to outer space, both the later movements arrive at a compendium of music history, including, to the delight of the audience, musicians dancing about. Dudamel was capable of providing the needed drive to the motoric elements of the second movement as well as to the Latin American rhythms of the third.

kurier.at, 8 September 2014, Heinz Christian Mayer

 

Review of the Asian premiere in Suntory Hall, Tokyo on 24 September 2014:

[…] The evening’s second piece was Time Recycling by René Staar, a Japanese premiere. […] One could in this music follow the composer’s reflection regarding »whether the flow of time is irreversible«; one heard reminiscences stretching from the baroque to the modern. The orchestra mastered the difficult score with bravura and played with evident pleasure and devotion, qualities also evident in Dudamel’s conducting. The Japanese audience was delighted and did not spare with its applause and approbation.

Nikkei Shinbun, 1 October 2014, Ryuichi Higuchi (preliminary
translation from Japanese into German by Mayako Kubo)