The Debate

instrumentation: wind symphony orchestra

year: 2008-9


program notes
Two stories, or extra-musical inspirations, are behind this piece. The first is a quote by Emil Ludwig: “debate is the death of conversation.” I picture a seemingly-sophisticated debate between four characters, portrayed in the piece by groups A to D. Each of my group has a distinguishing feature (The harp for A, low brass for B, piano for C, etc). They also have things in common, both in terms of their instrumentation, size, and lastly in terms of the musical material they’re identified with. The percussion instruments form a semi-circle around the four groups, and provide a backdrop to the story: they’re the environment, the outside world, with a logic and organization of its. This organization sometimes aligns really well with the ongoing story (epiphanies of sorts), and at other times provide a stark contrast and lack of concern with the center-stage events. The debate begins with each ‘individual’ stating their points at length, and they take turn to speak. As the process unfolds, however, the participants begin interrupting one another more and more frequently, and disregarding each other’s utterances, such that musically, there is less and less interaction between the material of one section and another. As the level of activity and hostility increases, shouting of sorts dominates the debate, and this maximal level is juxtaposed with its antithesis: complete silence. The lack of ‘speech’, in this case, functions as both the opposite of shouting, and the flip-side of the same medal – as in the net result is the same.
Another important inspiration was an experience I had of watching a movie (“The Life of David Gale”) on an airplane. I only joined the viewing of the film 20 minutes in, and as such, had no clear idea what was happening until close to the end, when the full story finally made sense to me. This worked as an amazing revelation, and I found the movie absolutely amazing for that reason. A few months later, I decided to watch the film again, this time starting from the beginning. Much to my disappointment, I found that seeing the opening made the direction of the film so obvious as to make the ‘revelation’ moment actually impossible. It was too predictable. I chose to have my Debate begin a third of the way through, and featured the true ‘beginning’ of the discussion after the shouting match and the silence it dissolves into. Once the overlapping material is reached, the music fades out, and the ‘film’ stops.

I wrote this piece for Professor Alain Cazes and the McGill Wind Symphony Orchestra as the composer in residence for the ensemble for 2008-9.

performance history

Première and only performance by the McGill University Wind Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Alain Cazes, on December 1st, 2009, in Pollack Hall, Montréal, QC, Canada.
download the score