Upcoming Performance: Crystal Kaleidoscope for Horn and Vibraphone by Ken Davies

IMG_20190320_141315964In addition to the Dana Wilson song cycle performance mentioned in my earlier post, I’ll be performing another brand new work in April at the Society of Composers, Inc. Region VI Conference at Texas A&M University—Commerce. The composition is by Ken Davies, and is entitled Crystal Kaleidoscope for horn and vibraphone. My colleague Mel Mobley and I commissioned it with assistance from the International Horn Society’s Meir Rimon Commissioning Assistance Fund. This is a fantastic initiative by the IHS, and well worth applying for and supporting! As of this writing, the fund is on hiatus from January 2019 through December 2019. Be on the lookout, however, for future funding opportunities.

Getting back to Crystal Kaleidoscope, Ken Davies is a very fine composer, and the works I’ve performed by him have been interesting and rewarding to play. The horn and vibraphone combination is pretty unique, and there are only a handful of other works in the repertoire for horn and mallet percussion, let alone this specific instrumentation. The first one that comes to mind is HornVibes: Three Duos for Horn and Vibraphone, by Verne Reynolds. For more information on this and other works for horn and mallet percussion, refer to Dr. Casey N. Maltese’s A Performance Guide of Selected Works for Horn and Mallet Percussion, D.M.A dissertation, the University of Miami, 2011. In my estimation, Crystal Kaleidoscope holds up very well when compared to the Reynolds, though it is quite different. Here is the composer’s note:

Look into the kaleidoscope. See the variously shaped colored crystals, their reflections producing continuous changing patterns. Each crystal has a unique structure, shape, and color—its own symmetrical, ordered, three-dimensional aggregation of atoms or molecules.

As the title suggests, this work is based on “crystals.” Though the sectional sub-titles may be whimsically named for gemstones, the musical crystals are pitch sets consisting of a few notes which are spun out into transformed patterns of melodic and harmonic variety. While the theorist/musicologist may want to delve into set analysis, I hope that others may simply enjoy the aural ride along the surface, letting the notes, chords, and timbres provide a worthy repeatable listening experience.

The writing is fun and challenging, but not unreasonably so, with lots of rhythmic and melodic interplay between horn and vibraphone. As the composer implies in his preface, there are some complex compositional operations at work, but the melodies and timbres are interesting enough in and of themselves without deep analysis. As I’ve found in other works by him, Ken likes to throw in periodic references to other styles such as funk and jazz. For instance, this short line for the horn in the final movement, “Crystal Collage,” has a pretty fun groove to it. Tempo is quarter note=92-104 or faster.

Davies Excerpt

If this post has piqued your interest in the music of Ken Davies, take a look at his website for a complete list of his many works. Here is a short list of works with horn, taken from his website.

  • Brain Fantasies for horn and two-channel audio
  • Sensuous Images for horn and pre-recorded soundscape
  • Waterscape for horn and digital media
  • Loose Connections – horn alone
  • Three Roads Diverged – brass trio – tpt, hrn, tbn
  • Concert Piece for Brass Quintet and Organ
  • Bayou Sketches – soprano, French horn, piano
  • Veiled Places for Woodwind Quintet
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