Ladder to the Moon for solo violin, wind octet, double bass, and percussion | Michael Daugherty, composer

Ladder to the Moon
for solo violin, wind octet, double bass, and percussion (2006)

I. Night, New York
II. Looking Up

Instrumentation: Solo violin; 2 oboes (English horn), 2 clarinets (bass clarinet), 2 bassoons (contrabassoon); 2 horns, percussion (1 player); double bass

Publisher: Boosey and Hawkes, Hendon Music (BMI)

Duration: 22 minutes

World Premiere: May 5, 2006 / Alice Tully Hall, New York, New York / Ida Kavafian, violin / Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center

Program Note:

Ladder to the Moon for solo violin, wind octet, double bass, and percussion was commissioned by the Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society. The first performance was given by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center with Ida Kavafian, solo violin, in New York City on May 5, 2006. The two-movement work is 20 minutes in duration and scored for solo violin, 2 oboes, 2 Bb clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, double bass, and percussion (one player).

Ladder to the Moon is inspired by the urban landscapes of American artist Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1968), who lived and painted in Manhattan before moving to New Mexico in 1934. From 1925-30, O’Keeffe created over twenty New York paintings of newly constructed skyscrapers, such as the Radiator Building and the Shelton Hotel. Like experimental photographers of the era, such as Alfred Stieglitz, O’Keeffe discovered a different reality in the form of skyscrapers, simultaneously realistic and abstract. Although Stieglitz (her husband at the time) claimed it was “an impossible idea” for a woman to paint New York, O’Keeffe went on to create some of her finest work during this time, motivated by her own conviction that “one can’t paint New York as it is, but rather as it is felt.” Ladder to the Moon is a musical tribute to the art of O’Keeffe, recreating the feeling of skyscrapers and cityscapes in Manhattan of the 1930s.

I. Night, New York

“Night, New York” is my musical perspective on skyscrapers as seen by O’Keeffe from an elevated height in New York at night: she often painted from her high-rise apartment on the thirtieth floor of the Shelton Hotel. Like her paintings, which featured only one or two buildings in the calm of the night, the music of this movement is intimate. Soulful woodwind melodies rise in dark soaring spirals to evoke a nocturnal view. A violin plays repeated pizzicato (plucked) and arco (bowed) patterns, providing a counterpoint like the visual rhythm of hundreds of brightly-lit windows on a skyscraper seen from afar.

II. Looking Up

“Looking Up” offers another musical perspective on skyscrapers, as seen from below. In 1927 O’Keeffe painted the Radiator Building, looking from the ground up and leading the eye upward on a ladder of vision. In this movement I have composed a ladder of sound, featuring virtuosic and expressive music for the violin in ascending vertical lines. Meanwhile the ensemble is structured in complex light and dark patterns, like the moon reflecting off the side of a building. A reflective slow section features tremolo violin, double bass harmonics, bowed vibraphone, and musical flights of fancy heard in the clarinet and horn. All instruments combine to suggest the rising spirit of the American skyscraper: an inspiring flight heavenward.

–Michael Daugherty