Review: Chaconne of Loss and Hope by Miguel Roig-Francoli. Virtual performance of the Seattle Pacific University String Ensemble under the direction of CTF Hanson (April 2021)
Many composers shift focus as they progress in their careers and Dr. Miguel Roig-Francoli is no different. His first works were lauded for their postmodern, neotonal sound and structure. His academic career as a Distinguished Teaching Professor of Music Theory and Composition at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music moved away from composition and delved into varied research from sixteenth century theory to the music of twentieth century composers. Yet, in the past two decades, using the strengths of his past compositional and scholarly work, he returned to the creation of compositions that focus on a simplistic, emotional musical language referencing sacred texts, spiritual themes, and Gregorian chant.
Dr. Miguel Roig-Francoli’s varied past within the realm of composition and research gives a sense of complexity and depth to his most recent works, including the Chaconne of Loss and Hope written in 2014. The work, for string orchestra, is written in an approachable style using direct scalar lines that balance a constant rhythmic flow of sound. The combination leads the listener to feel a sense of movement and connection while allowing the mind to relax and appreciate the full sound spectrum of the piece. A consistent bass line that moves almost thematically, a triple meter and distinct melodic sections give homage to the form of a chaconne. But the piece stands out in the use of a minor key and its flowing connection between the melodic sections. It feels present yet of the past. This gives it depth of character and a sense of connectivity to the past, present, and future.
The youth and zeal of the performers in the Seattle Pacific University string ensemble reflect this connective quality and further deepen the impact of the piece. They creates the sense of timelessness in which the piece stands. Roig-Francoli speaks of how the piece represented a way to express his feelings at a time of personal loss, and how he now feels the piece can connect with all of us in a sense of collective grief during the pandemic. He also speaks to how hope is a part of loss and can help us all overcome loss, both personal and collective. The performance by these young artists artfully captures these emotional concepts and the video as well as audio bring the piece to its fullest effect.
The introduction by Dr. Roig-Francoli tied beautifully into the performance of the work. His words captured the piece and how to best connect with it as a viewer and listener. Without his words, the piece would have lost a layer of meaning and been less effective. The use of an excerpt of the piece itself as background music for the introduction gave Roig-Francoli’s words a sense of cinematic power as well. It was also clever to use color and the absence of color to develop a visual perspective for the performance that no in-person concert could. The slow progression from fully black and white to vivid color enticed the viewer, drawing them into the music itself and providing a visual clue to the growth of hope within the music.
The mixing of score pages and live performance video was less effective. It was poignant to see the musicians masked and working together virtually and in person. Insterting the score into this video performance felt jarring and lessened the overall impact of the videography. As the music steadily flowed, the video should have as well. The video also sometimes shook and changed between vertical and horizontal camera angles. Usually this would lead a viewer to disconnect or consider the performance to have less value but, in this case, this negative became an effective tool to convey the meaning of the piece. It showed the humanity behind the music and brought a sense of reality to the full performance and its presentation. It has been a year of struggles to bring music to audiences and this video showed how we have persevered – how we have found hope after grief.
The strength of this work and performance lies in how loss is tied to hope. The music, the production and the performance generate an emotional pull that captures listeners and helps them to reflect on personal and societal grief while still reaching for a sense of hope and power to change the future for the better. While there are some intonation issues within the performance as well as a moment in which the orchestra fails to move together rhythmically, the string ensemble, under the leadership of Christopher T.F. Hanson, proves that imperfection can add to a performance rather than detract. The ensemble shows its humanity and flaws and overcomes them just as the music builds through grief into hope for the future. This is a powerful piece for young musicians today and a captivating one for audiences.
Katherine Decker, cellist, has enthralled audiences with her “intense concentration and confidence” (Fanfare). Since 2011, Decker has been a member of the award-winning ensemble, enhakē. She received her MM and DMA from the Florida State University and serves as Assistant Professor of Cello at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh.