Apogee [ap-uh-jee] (noun): the highest or greatest point: the culmination.
Having been partially inspired by Hokusai’s famous woodblock print, The Great Wave off Kanagawa, this piece aims to capture some of the endlessly complex nature of water. Apogee is constructed around a series of wave-like surges in the music, and so forward momentum is constantly created by the ebb and flow of musical intensity. The overarching wave structures provide a linear narrative within which individual parts can exist independent from one another; although Hokusai’s waves fracture into countless smaller constructions, they are nevertheless guided and propelled by the global sense of direction implied by the larger waveform. This piece explores how the individuality of each member of the orchestra can be maintained, even celebrated, without losing a sense of holistic cohesion. Only rarely in complete synchronicity, each instrumental part proceeds on its own personal journey, and yet the orchestra as a whole achieves unity of expression at the various explosive climaxes of the piece.
The title of the piece comes from two terms used in the appraisal of gemstones. ‘Brilliance’ refers to the light refracted from the interior of a gem (crucially, transparent ones, such as diamonds), whereas ‘fire’ refers to the tendency of a gemstone to split light into its spectral colours.
The different moods which I sought to evoke led to very different ways of constructing the music. The opening section employs the verticalization of a tone row to create a dark and foreboding timbre, which moves into a section in which the harmonies used are relatively tonal, but are derived from a melody which is much less tonal and quite angular to create a fanfare-like gesture. A slightly more functional use of harmony is used in the next, more romantic, section, followed by a section in which, to create a mysterious affect, the harmonies are led predominantly by chromatic voice leading.
With regards to the second feature (and in order to better explain the significance of the final section): the very first inspiration behind the piece was the idea of schenkerian analysis – the practice of stripping back elaborations in a piece of music to uncover the its fundamental structure. This is a practice devised for analysis of tonal music, rather than composition of non-tonal music, but here, this paradigm is turned around. A schenkerian analysis of this piece might reveal that the fundamental structure is a sequence of tone rows, all of which are transpositions of the same tone row; moreover, the elaborations on it are a conscious process. However, there are moments in the piece which move away from this paradigm and use motifs as building blocks in a more usual way. As the piece progresses, the elaborations are gradually stripped away, and the tone row which was initially concealed is gradually used more and more as a motif, with fragments of the tone row(s) gradually becoming more apparent. The apotheosis of this is the final section of the piece, which takes the form of a fugue. After a build up on the opening material, a fugal subjects enters in the horns and violins. This fugal subject is the tone row on which the overarching structure of the piece is based, and although this is the first place where it is heard plainly, the allusions to it in previous sections means that if may already sound familiar. However, the episodes between this subject develop motifs more freely: the motivic content of the piece and the tone row have gained musical independence and, hence, have diverged.