One Hundred Years Grows Shorter Over Time
duration: 18 Minutes
One Hundred Years Grows Shorter Over Time was commissioned by South Mountain Association for the Juilliard String Quartet in honor of the 100th anniversary of South Mountain Concerts, and premiered on September 23, 2018 at South Mountain Concert Hall in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
One Hundred Years Grows Shorter Over Time was commissioned by South Mountain Association for the Juilliard String Quartet and written in honor of the 100th anniversary of South Mountain Concerts. As I began writing I thought about the span of 100 years: how, over time, our lives turn into stories told by our children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, the complications and subtleties of life crystalizing into anecdotes as actual memories fade. The three movements of this quartet are like successive generations retelling the same story. Musical material is passed from movement to movement, but along the way it is reinterpreted and reshaped into something quite different. The movements all share a similar obsessiveness of character, moments of exuberance, and a tendency for long lines to emerge out of faster, restless music, but each movement is shorter, slower, and more focused than the previous one. As I wrote, a melody kept coming into my mind: a waltz written by my Estonian granduncle Ilmar Kiiss, now in his mid-90s. He had written the waltz in the 1950s after the Soviet occupation of Estonia and I had first played this music with my violinist brother when we were teenagers. Over the years we have kept returning to it and it felt right to let this little bit of my granduncle’s life that had meant so much to me, into my piece. The waltz is hidden or just hinted at in the first two movements but in the third it appears fully realized if a bit scratchy, as if an old recording, a piece of the past both beautiful and out-of-context, was re-discovered by a future generation.
Lembit Beecher has had a foot in the city as an opera composer, and was much lauded with last season’s premiere of his Sky on Swings in Opera Philadelphia’s O18 festival. But Beecher, who was an Opera Philadelphia composer-in-residence for three years, has a lot of moves, as the Juilliard showed in his One Hundred Years Grow Shorter Over Time.
Beecher has laced his string quartet with a waltz written by an Estonian granduncle, and it appears intermittently. But if you indulge your imagination just a little, it is easy to become taken with the pastoral style of Beecher’s writing. He asks for it explicitly in parts of the score, suggesting the character for one watery section as “liquid, tender and misty,” and asking that another be played “almost like a fluttering butterfly, shaped expressively.”
Trills like birds, a pizzicato cello part that bubbles like a brook, intimation of wind and insects — it’s hard to know just how consciously Beecher sought to evoke nature in the lovely third movement. But what a wonderful meeting of performer and material he struck upon for the closing viola solo. Roger Tapping’s almost subliminal sound was both extremely quiet and present — as “an old, distant recording,” a note in the score says — before the piece fades to black.
— Peter Dobrin (Philadelphia Inquirer), February 11, 2019