Composition Department

City Life

for 13 players or chamber orchestra
Indiana University New Music Ensemble

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Available on Signals: Instrumental and Electroacoustic Music of Jeffrey Hass (from the IU Marketplace and online retailers)

City Life (1990), written for the Indiana University School of Music, is a lighthearted fantasy of a happily displaced New Yorker-its architecture, instrumentation and often frenetic tempi all suggested by the contemporary urban scene. The piece was, in fact, conceived as an "update" to Aaron Copland's Quiet City and concludes with a not-so-quiet drive-by shooting. The musical design is sectional, the short blocks or "neighborhoods" often related in underlying material and pulse but each having a unique character drawn from a range of urban musical styles: jazz, featuring muted brass solos, piano, percussion and amplified bass; "downtown" minimalism, reflected by pervasive ostinati (short, repeated patterns); and "uptown" pointillism.

The work is scored in thirteen parts (for either chamber orchestra or single strings), combining woodwind trio, brass trio, string quintet, piano and percussion. Each family of instruments plays in blocks of sound, often in opposition with other groups, and individual instruments rarely venture out alone. A notable exception is a violin solo in a slow section marked "molto rubato-with drunken abandon," evoking a street musician with vapor trails of some unidentified fortified wine. The demanding passage-work, wide instrumental ranges, and fast tempi require virtuosity from all players. City Life won the national composers' competition of the Concordia Chamber Orchestra in 1991 and the Herscher Foundation Composition Competition (administered by Ithaca College) in 2007.

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