A collection of shorter orchestral works by Glenn Stallcop

Orchestra Openers 3COVER

The album Openers features a collection of overtures and tone poems written by Glenn Stallcop over the last forty years. Stallcop, who retired in 2019 after forty-six years as a double bassist with the Phoenix Symphony, wrote three of these works for the Phoenix Symphony. Two of the remaining works were commissioned for youth symphonies in Arizona, and one of the works is new. The Phoenix Symphony has also performed two of his feature length works, Millennial Opening, and City Music (twice), and three of his works featuring string orchestra.

Stallcop, whose orchestral music has covered a lot of ground stylistically over his career, tends to think of his music as post-modern yet performer-centric. He considers the performance experience as paramount, and is intent on creating music that is fun and moving to perform.

Also represented in his compositions is his experience of what amounts to a parallel career as an improvisational pianist. Music from his many albums of solo piano improvisation has found its way into his orchestral compositions, especially his later works. He often uses a transcribed piano improvisation as an initial sketch for his written compositions. This technique was used in two of the latter pieces, Five Bells and Aperitif, but is also used (for the first time) in one of the earlier pieces, Couplet for a Desert Summer.

As the album title suggests, all the works here are meant to be the first piece on an orchestral program. Calypso Round, In Apprehension of Spring, and Sunscape are traditional overtures. Aperitif and Five Bells are opening tone poems such as R. Strauss’s Don Juan or Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet. Couplet for a Desert Summer is a fifteen-minute two-movement work that could possibly occupy a different place on a program, but works nicely as a concert opener.

Calypso Round. This driving Latin-tinged eight-minute tour de force hints at minimalism while displaying nearly continuous canonic writing. Originally a mixed quintet for flute, horn, marimba, harp, and double bass written in 1980, it was orchestrated for large orchestra in 2000 for a performance by the Phoenix Symphony, conducted by Robert Moody. [Full article]

Aperitif. This is an, as yet, unperformed ten-minute tone poem for chamber orchestra written in the summer of 2019. It is meant to describe in reunion of old friends for dinner and displays their personalities and interactions. The work also features prominent parts for piano, harp, and marimba. [Full article]

Five Bells. This is a tone poem commissioned by the Arizona Band and Orchestra Teachers Association for the 2010 Arizona All-State Orchestra. It was performed in the spring of 2011 with John Roscigno conducting. It is a musical impression of a haunting elegiac poem of the same name by the Australian poet, Kenneth Slessor. The work is dramatic and features somewhat a ironic reference to R. Strauss’s Death and Transfiguration in the coda. [Full article]

Couplet for a Desert Summer. This is a fifteen-minute two-movement work depicting the two most active times of the day in the desert, dawn and dusk. The work, which was written from 1980-82, is scored for a Classical-era type chamber orchestra plus the addition of metal percussion and piano. The work features characteristic solo wind writing and a prominent piano part. A somewhat fragmented opening to Dawn settles into a long spirited section, a lengthy flute solo ushers in a section representing the rising sun. The movement closes with the mirages beginning to appear as the heat intensifies. Dusk opens with a call in the piano and passed throughout the orchestra. A piano solo ushers the sun to the horizon as the desert becomes alive. The music turns reverent as sunset colors flood the sky, and the music builds as the sky is set ablaze. As the light fades, the music becomes tired and goes to sleep. The works was first performed in Feb. 1984 by the Phoenix Symphony, Clark Suttle, conducting. [Full article]

In Apprehension of Spring. This is an overture commissioned by the Metropolitan Youth Symphony (Mesa, AZ) in 1985 and performed later that year with Wayne Roederer conducting. The work was written for an orchestra entirely under the age of 15, and is written not only for them, but also about them. It is a four-minute pedal-to-the-metal romp. [Full article]

Sunscape. Commissioned by the Arizona Diamond Jubilee Commission for the seventy-fifth anniversary of Arizona’s Statehood, this work was first performed in Nov. 1987 by the Phoenix Symphony with Harold Weller conducting. The work is a celebration of the majestic grandeur of the Grand Canyon State, its dramatic topography and silk-screen horizons. The varied landforms and ecosystems are all dominated by a solar presence that is essential to its character. Sweeping lines and multiple contrapuntal levels blend together to create a eleven-minute flyby of spectacular scenery. [Full article]

All music is published by American Composers Alliance (BMI) and realized through the use of the software NotePerformer.


An overture for orchestra

Canyon1When the Arizona Diamond Jubilee Commission awarded me a commission to commemorate the seventy-fifth anniversary of Arizona statehood, I had a couple of distinct choices for possible approaches.   Arizona has three large and distinct population groups, Anglo, Hispanic, and Native American, each with a proud heritage in the region. One choice would be to somehow combine those cultural traditions into a musical mix of style and purpose. This approach would not only be difficult, it was fraught with ambiguity and implied meaning. Culture is a very sensitive subject and histories of racism and exploitation make the subject that much more difficult.

However, I was asked to commemorate the anniversary of Arizona as a political entity, not a culture; a political organization with lofty aspirations of freedom and equality for all its citizens without regard to race and culture. These ideals, born of the Enlightenment are Classical to the core! In response to this challenge, I decided to write probably my most archetypically Classical work. The style is a modal-tinged Neo-Classicism. The form is textbook sonata-allegro. The texture is woven from continuously dovetailed contrapuntal gestures. Paintings of Arizona are often done by silkscreen; it is a land of multiple horizons. The counterpoint of landforms is represented in the music by a counterpoint of musical ideas of different shapes and size; some sharp and angular, and some broad and sweeping.

Canyon2Furthermore, the one thing all of the people in Arizona share is a love of the spectacular landscape that dominates the Southwest. Sunscape is a portrait of the sweeping grandeur that is the Grand Canyon State. And despite the diversity of landforms and ecosystems, all life in the state is dominated by an intense solar presence that is absolutely fundamental to its character. Each vision of Arizona, whether desert, mountain, canyon, or lake, is a sunscape.

The work was commissioned by the Arizona Diamond Jubilee Commission for the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Arizona statehood. It was first performed in November of 1987 by the Phoenix Symphony, with Harold Weller conducting


In Apprehension of Spring

Of the works I have written for orchestra, three were written for youth orchestras. City Music was written for the Seattle Youth Symphony, and to say I did not hold anything back is almost an understatement. Five Bells was a commission for the Arizona All-State High School Orchestra, and though I did not do much to accommodate their youth, I did keep in mind that they would only have two days of rehearsal to put it together. In Apprehension of Spring, on the other hand, was written for an orchestra all under the age of 15. Though they had some impressive facility for their age, I still made some accommodations.

In the fall of 1985, I was asked by composer Grant Fletcher to take over a commission that he felt his other commitments would not allow him to complete on time. Though it was short notice, I was happy to accept the opportunity. The Metropolitan Youth Symphony, a now thriving organization in Mesa, Arizona (a suburb of Phoenix), had been established by Wayne Roederer in 1983. They were still a new group in 1985, but they were already making waves in the local music community.

When I went to hear them for the first time back in 1985, I was not only struck by the high quality of the playing, I was moved by the tremendous enthusiasm of the players. I had forgotten what it was like to be an early teenager. So, it evolved that this short overture became a work that was not only for them, but about them as well. The apprehension involved is that of a carnival ride, where you don’t know where you are going, but you are going there fast and having a lot of fun.

The piece is a four-minute romp. I put the piece together more like a rock tune than anything else. A high-energy introduction becomes the main accompaniment pattern for the two verses and chorus. The bridge material in the brass leads to a canonic transition back to the verse. The final chorus brings back the bridge material in the brass and brings it to a rousing close.

In Apprehension of Spring


A new work for chamber orchestra

Unlike many of the other works I have posted, this work for small orchestra was written within the last couple of months.  Most music I write has a practical purpose of some sort, for a person, group, event, or all of the above, but this piece was started almost on a lark.  The first sessions of working on a piece are always a little mysterious. I have different, sometimes conflicting visions of what I am going to do. For this piece, I let these early ideas also shape the instrumentation, trying to decide what sorts of textures and sounds I wanted to work with.

aperitifI originally thought I was going to write the piece for string orchestra, but I gradually started adding other instruments, until I ended up writing a work for a small chamber orchestra. I was determined to not use un-pitched percussion instruments as I wanted the piece to have a chamber music feel.  The piece has several “swirling” sections and I knew I needed a harp or piano in the mix.  Eventually I decided to use both piano and harp, plus a marimba. I felt I needed to spotlight these instruments to add a special flavor to the piece.  There are no doubles in the winds; they are all playing different instruments. This adds an a la carte character to the piece and heightens the chamber music aspect.

Aperitif is an adaptation of the first track of the piano solo album, Downhill, which will be released later this year (2019).  The album tries to display several examples of a collection of events that seem to flow from an initial trigger.  The series of events seem to flow as easily as a ball rolling downhill. Some triggers, such as an “aperitif,” are relatively harmless, while others, such as lies and arguments, are much less so.  The resulting events can always be slowed or stopped, but not without serious effort and reflection.

The events triggered by Aperitif take the form of social interactions among a group of friends over dinner.  The interactions become more and more personal, sometimes funny, sometimes heartfelt, while at other times being a bit more biting.  The music seems to evolve around certain personalities, one rather facilitating, another stronger and somewhat dismissive, one prone to being a little alarmist, and another one somewhat overly sentimental.  These acquaintances discuss things light-heartedly at first; gradually adding a little more humor and satire until someone becomes a little offended and things become a little uncomfortable. The conversation then begins to dissolve and ends with a promise to get together again.

The work is scored for piccolo, flute, oboe, English horn, clarinet, bass clarinet, bassoon, French horn, trumpet, bass trombone, marimba, piano, harp, and strings.  The work is more of a tone poem than an overture, but nevertheless is, not surprisingly, meant to be a concert opener, hopefully triggering wonderful things to follow.