Q&A with Sebastian Currier

Photo by Jeffrey Herman

Seattle Symphony will perform the world premiere of Divisions by Sebastian Currier April 23 & 25, 2015. Here are some of his thoughts on writing this new piece, and on the anniversary of the First World War:

Can you describe what your initial reactions were when asked to write a piece in honor of the First World War? What intrigued you and what intimidated you?

My first reaction to the thought of my piece relating to World War I was, honestly, that I was not sure I wanted to address it in my music! Almost by definition, it seems to me that music — any music, and the very fact of its existence in human culture — is a celebration of life. To look at World War I would not be a celebration of life, but a commemoration of death and destruction. When I thought that I could make the piece about this distinction, I became more intrigued. When I imagined a piece that, in the broadest sense, moves from disorder to order, I knew it was something I would like to write.

According to your program notes, Divisions attempts to capture all the various definitions of that word. From fractures and fragmentation, to military divisions of troops, to time being divided into beats and variations. How do those intellectual ideas transform into musical ideas?

In terms of what one hears musically, I think it is the movement from a fragmented musical sound world, where phrases are interrupted or not allowed to complete in a natural fashion, to the end of the piece where one hears a set of uncomplicated variations on a simple tune. A sense of wholeness and continuity replaces the fragmentation of the piece’s beginning. At the very end of the piece, a feeling of repose begins to unwind, and we are left with the impression that this whole cycle is doomed to repeat over and over.

Most of your music is written for chamber ensembles. What are the challenges and rewards of writing for a large orchestra? Is it simply a larger canvas, or something more?

It’s fun to write for an orchestra! I’m working on another orchestra piece right now (a concerto for orchestra), so I’ve been thinking about the medium quite a bit. In terms of Divisions, a very large ensemble is well suited to demonstrate the idea behind the piece. Through the division of troops, an apparently necessary evil in our dark world, a group of individuals come together for the act of destruction. In an orchestra, 70 or 80 individuals come together in an incredibly coordinated fashion, creating something harmonious on a time scale that can be only a fraction of a second. I wonder if there is any other human activity that comes close to this level of coordination.

Tickets and more information here.

Posted on April 14, 2015