Review: Suite for Hope by Tormod Tvete Vik. Virtual Performance of the Seattle Pacific University Orchestra (September 2020)
Tormod Tvete Vik’s Suite for Hope, commissioned in 2016 by Norwegian Youth Orchestra Organization UNOF Rogaland, is a motoric addition to the genre of educational orchestral music. The suite’s duration of seven minutes, split into six short movements, is endurable for novice players who are still developing stamina for longer pieces. In this piece, Vik favors modal construction of melodies and harmonic progressions, rhythmic ostinati in accompanimental voices, and heavily doubled tutti textures. In addition to the standard orchestral complement, the instrumentation includes three piano parts, one specifically marked “Piano accompaniment” to assist educators who may need to fill in for missing players or assist those already present.
Organized and presented in a virtual format during the COVID-19 pandemic by Seattle Pacific University Symphony Orchestra’s Christopher T. F. Hanson, musicians from around the world recorded their parts individually at home. These recordings were compiled and released as a YouTube video with a score follower on September 6, 2020. Though the video’s resolution prohibits detailed study, a general sense of instrument ranges and rhythmic complexity, among other considerations, can be easily assessed by potential programmers reading along with the performance.
The first movement, Before (Før), is constructed around the acoustic scale, centered on D. The opening features a folk-inspired tune with a cheeky character. Dissonance is introduced in the accompaniment through Lydian inflections on the tonic chord. The tune is repeated a second time with thicker orchestration, then repeated a third time with a soaring countermelody, taking a nostalgic turn that leads to a plagal cadence in D minor, concluding the movement.
The Flight (Flukten) opens with a four-measure ostinato in E minor over a tonic pedal. Led by the strings and the percussion, other players enter on subsequent repetitions of the ostinato. After three cycles, the pedal gives way to an active bass-line, outlining a new chord progression that introduces modal mixture through the major IV chord (A major). Vik concludes the movement with a rhythmic tutti emphasizing the tritone relationship between A major and E-flat major.
The third movement, After (Efter), begins with a similar character and form with a four-measure ostinato in A minor. This ostinato was previously heard as a brass countermelody in the second movement. Here, too, the development of material is generally additive in nature. This four-bar ostinato is reharmonized as instruments are added to the texture, leading to a tutti which gives way to a 7/8 passage led by the strings.
The fourth and fifth movements, Reminiscence (Minner) and Hope (Håp), develop the same melody antiphonally, with the latter movement rising to a cautiously optimistic tutti climax cast in a Mixolydian shade. In the final movement, The Future (Framtiden), melodies from the first, fourth, and fifth movements are stratified atop one another in a largo-maestoso coda. The tritone relationship makes one last appearance as a dissonance against the tonic in the final chord.
In an interview preceding Seattle Pacific University’s YouTube performance, Tormod Tvete Vik states, “Suite for Hope is about unity, diversity, and the unified language of music with the power of making changes.” Approachable both in syntax and difficulty, Suite for Hope is an ambitious catalogue of melodic and rhythmic inventions for novice players. However, this material feels underdeveloped. Movements often sound as if they are rushing to reach their double barline. As a listener, I found myself wishing that I could hear the latent music between them.
Cast in six miniatures, with many sharing similar dynamic and developmental shapes, it may be difficult for novice performers to execute the overall dramatic trajectory in Suite for Hope. In this performance, individual moods are conveyed clearly but frequent tonal shifts and abrupt halts in the music offer little room for nuance or cohesion. Lacking transitions between significant, contrasting moments, the piece misses opportunities to express conceptual ideas through the transformation of musical ideas. Suite for Hope is technically and syntactically approachable for youth orchestras, though educators may find it less coherent, nuanced, or satisfying than comparably difficult pieces that engage with similar themes.
Ryan Chase, Emmy-nominated composer, has backed artists ranging from Clay Aiken to Sufjan Stevens, to Questlove. His music has been presented at Tanglewood, Aspen Music Festival, Cannes Film Festival, Copland House, Resonant Bodies Festival, Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, and Oregon Bach Festival. He is Assistant Professor at Colgate University.