1983 VECTORIAL for 6 wind instruments and piano

VECTORIAL (1983, and revised in 1987) was written for the ASKO ensemble during its transition from amateur to professional status. It was the time of the ‘Werkplaats’ (work place) when composers and musicians worked closely together, debating the pros and cons of various attitudes to playing and composing this or that type of music. For a particular project in 1983 some four or five composers were given a commission to write new works and to choose an instrumental ensemble out of the pool of musicians which ASKO worked with at the time. As I was the last in the line, I decided to take on the challenge of writing for those musicians that were left out or featured only moderately in the already chosen combinations: piano, harp, trumpet, clarinet, oboe, and bassoon.

My first and biggest mistake was the harp: apart from little affinity with the instrument, I elected to tune it in quarter tones, which in itself is feasible, but in combination with the piano part it turned out to be embarrasingly ‘out of tune’ rather than enhancing the harmonies. After its first disappointing performance therefore I got rid of the harp and composed an altogether new bass clarinet part in its place. In my desire to engage each instrument as democratically as possible (read: in equal proportion) I also discovered that the trumpet part was so over-engaged that the poor player’s lips and lungs suffered undue torture. So I divided the part over two trumpets instead, rearranging some sections to greater effect in the process.

The piano part is Vectorial’s central music and starts off with a ‘mixture’ of three ingredients. The other instruments open the work as a group of totally independent individuals until they become more and more aware of each other as time progresses, eventually merging into and behaving as one coherent ensemble. As they do so, they try to pick on one of the piano’s ingredients and eliminate it by ‘absorption’. After their first successful attempt, the piano carries on with the remaining two ingredients and the ensemble follows the same procedure of absorbing and eliminating one of them. When the piano part is left with only one leg to stand on, the ensemble looks for yet another way to get hold of it, until it finally grabs and kills it in a frenzied chase. End of story.

Aki Takahashi played the very demanding piano part (much in the manner of Xenakis) in two very different performances: one with the Xenakis Ensemble in its original form, and one with the ASKO Ensemble in the revised version.