Ensembles with a core of flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and piano surged in the twentieth century. Often called “Pierrot” ensembles, after Arnold Schoenberg’s masterpiece Pierrot Lunaire for these instruments, they commonly add one or more additional instruments, especially percussion. These reviews—at least initially—focus on pieces that add horn to some or all of the core instruments of a Pierrot ensemble.
I learned about Yie-Eun Chun’s Urban Polyphony when I participated as a judge for the 2015 SCI/ASCAP Commission Award. (It received honorable mention.) Chun recently completed a doctorate at Indiana University. Her piece immediately stood out to me in a crowded field of highly qualified entries. Comprised of four brief movements that combine to last about ten minutes, it recaptures impressions of a visit the composer made to New York in 2013.
“CrosSRoad” hilariously depicts the chaotic stop-and-go of New York traffic, finally turning (it would seem) from one of the jammed numbered Streets onto a fast-moving Avenue. “Walk in the Cathedral” offers quiet respite from the hectic bustle of the street. “Tune it!” explores the open tones of a violin in a manner that delights beyond expectations, and “Merry-Go-Round” offers cascading sound-clouds that conjure not just an attraction in a theme-park but the very whirlwind that a visit to New York entails. I hear snippets of Debussy and “The Planets” and even late-60’s Miles Davis in this piece. But they sparkle in a synthesis that stands apart as a fresh musical statement.
The instrumentation of Urban Polyphony is flute, clarinet, horn, violin, cello, percussion, and piano. I asked the composer what prompted her to add the horn to the otherwise standard grouping. She says, “Horn is one of my favorite instruments because of its wide range of timbres, techniques and sounds.” To that she adds that for the first movement she “thought a loud exhale sound from the horn would be perfect for describing the boisterous and clamorous atmosphere of the road.” Indeed, this exhale is the first entrance of the horn in the piece.
The linked video is a recording of the premiere performance. If you would like sheet music or to contact the composer for any reason, you can reach her through her website, also linked below.