Time Machine for three conductors and orchestra | Michael Daugherty, composer

Time Machine
for three conductors and orchestra (2003)

Instrumentation: 4 flutes (IV=piccolo), 2 oboes, English horn, 3 clarinets(III=Eb clarinet), bass clarinet, 4 bassoons (IV=contrabassoon); 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, bass trombone, tuba; timpani, 5 percussion; harp; strings

Publisher: Boosey and Hawkes, Hendon Music (BMI)

Duration: 20 minutes

World Premiere: November 24, 2003 / Heinz Hall, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania / Pittsburgh Symphony / Mariss Jansons / Lucas Richman / Edward Cumming

Program Note:

Time Machine for three conductors and orchestra was commissioned by the Pittsburgh Symphony. The premiere of Time Machine was given by the Pittsburgh Symphony conducted by Mariss Jansons, Lucas Richman and Edward Cumming in Heinz Hall, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on November 24, 2003.

Time Machine is twenty minutes in length and divided into two movements, which are performed with pause. I represent the three dimensions of space (forward-backward; left-right; up-down) by dividing the orchestra into three spatially separated orchestras of equal register, volume and intensity. I have also composed music where each orchestra has its own tempo or meter. Because the polytempo and polymetric music occurs simultaneously between the three orchestras and needs to be synchronized, each orchestras requires its own conductor. When the three orchestras play all together, the three dimensional music creates a time machine, where travel through time (or the fourth dimension) in forward or reverse is possible. In the first movement of my Time Machine, we move backward in time, while in the second movement we are propelled forward to the 22nd century.

“Past” is a musical journey into a time long ago. The movement begins with polyrhythmic woodblocks ticking like mechanical clocks and metronomes at different tempos. Orchestras I and II resound antiphonally with brisk, polymetric, dance-like music reminiscent of the Renaissance. Orchestra III performs sweeping melodies and lush, tonal harmonies in a slow tempo reminiscent of a romantic past. As a reminder that we are living on borrowed time, two percussionists play large raintrees, which sound like sand running through ancient hourglasses. “Past” presents polytempo and polymetric coordination challenges between the three conductors: for the conductors of Orchestra I and II, the downbeat of every 5 beats at the tempo of dotted quarter note = 120, must be synchronized with the conductor of Orchestra I downbeat of every 3 beats at the tempo of quarter note = 76.

The second movement, “Future,” echoes the bleak vision depicted by H. G. Wells in his novel The Time Machine (1898). A clever inventor described by Wells as “the Time Traveler” builds a time machine and travels over 800,000 years into the future. A harp solo begins the movement suggesting the Time Traveler’s naïve fascination by the spectacular Eden-like paradise he encounters in the year 802,701. The Time Traveler soon discovers that humanity has been separated into two new species: the childlike, passive, beautiful Eloi who live above ground and the intelligent, cruel, grotesque Morlocks, who live deep underground. In the dark subterranean caves of the Morlocks, the Time Traveler discovers massive piles of skulls and bones, and realizes, to his horror, that the Morlocks are cannibals who raise the Eloi to eat them alive. I have composed two contrasting sound worlds to depict this uninviting world: lyrical, hypnotic, dreamy music for the Eloi, and brutal, pulsating, dissonant music for the Morlocks. Rattling bamboo windchimes suggest a terrible reality.

In “Future” there are a variety of difficult tasks for the three conductors such as synchronizing free tempos with conducted tempos, and simultaneously coordinating different meters, which share a common metric denominator, between the three orchestras.

–Michael Daugherty