First American Performance - Live
Houston Symphony Chamber Orchestra - Stokowski Legacy Players
C. William Harwood, conductor
St. Luke Methodist Church
Houston, TX
November 15, 1980; recorded by KLEF

At the Still Point, for orchestra (1977), is on rental from Merion Music, Inc./Theodore Presser Co. and is recorded on Chester Biscardi • At the Still Point, CRI CD 686 (New York, 1995). It was written for the Orchestra della Radiotelevisione Italiana in Rome while the composer was a fellow at the American Academy in Rome and was first performed under the direction of Massimo Pradella on December 7, 1977. The American premiere took place on November 15, 1980, with the Houston Symphony, C. William Harwood conducting. This recording for CRI was made following the first New York performance in Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center on February 1, 1982.

At the Still Point is scored for an orchestra of forty players divided into four groups: a high group of two flutes, two clarinets, two trumpets, bongos, congas, tom-toms, glockenspiel, vibraphone and eight violins; a low group of oboe, English horn, bassoon, contrabassoon, two trombones, tuba, timpani, tom-toms, timbales, four cellos and two basses; a center group of two horns, four violas, vibraphone, marimba, glockenspiel and piano which connect the two timbral extremes; and a trio consisting of flute, violin and piano which functions at different times as a "drone" and as a group of primary musical importance.

Susan Feder wrote the following in the liner notes for the original issue of At the Still Point:
When Chester Biscardi talks about his music and about his life, sometimes it's hard to tell where one leaves off and the other emerges. "For me writing music is part of a continuing process of awareness - of self and of trying to make an intellectual and emotional connection to the world," he says. In his music, one concern is with "space - registral and physical - and how that generates the form of a work." Another is with timbral bridges, which connect diverse sonorities, and a third is with "'frozen registration,' when I keep a tone in a certain place until, for motivic or harmonic reasons, I intuitively feel that it must move." In his teaching at Sarah Lawrence, he urges his own students toward an integrated, intuitive approach to composition.

Literature has given him ideas about form. The titles of his works provide clues to the sources of inspiration. The percussion piece Trasumanar (1980) stems from Dante; Tenzone (1975), for flute duo and piano, comes from a Provençal poetic form structured by means of dialogue; Mestiere (1979), for piano, and Di Vivere (1981), for clarinet and piano with flute, violin and cello, make up the title of an Italian journal called The Business of Living.

"At the still point" is a line from T. S. Eliot's "Burnt Norton," a poem dealing with the interplay of form with time, the "still point" being where past and future meet. Biscardi was well into the composition of the work before realizing that its compositional elements - particularly the acoustical and timbral interplay of the four orchestra groups, and the whys and whens of pitch change - reminded him of the poem, and he made use of a solo violin toward the end of the piece in a direct evocation of one of Eliot's images. The placement of the four orchestral groups "allows the music to flow in a certain spatial way," and accounts also for the pulling of the pitches into and out of their frozen registration. Biscardi also found that his "technique of dealing with form comes from a constant referral back to material already presented, a reevaluation of musical ideas which are continually related in a new context--a process which attempts to incorporate past as well as future ideas in the present moment."
Notes by Chester Biscardi

Composer's Thoughts: Juxtaposed Landscapes

Read more about At the Still Point here »

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