Breath, Body and Voice Gala Concert: Stephen Jaffe’s “Migrations”

June 4, 2018
Featured Video Play Icon

Breath, Body and Voice Gala Concert, Part Two: poet Nikki Finney’s A New Day Dawns and composer Stephen Jaffe’s Migrations (Chamber Concerto No. 4) for violin and ensemble.

“Songs of Journey,” a Gala concert held September 16, 2017 in Baldwin Auditorium, Duke University, was presented by the Duke University Department of Music in association with the Franklin Humanities Institute’s Breath, Body and Voice Capstone Conference. The program explored themes of migration and immigration, including the premiere of Stephen Jaffe’s Migrations (Chamber Concerto No. 4) for violin and ensemble with Gabriel Richard, violin soloist. Featuring conductors Stephen Jaffe and Rodney Wynkoop and a faculty/student chamber orchestra, the concert also included Gustav Mahler’s “Songs of a Wayfarer” (Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen) sung by Susan Dunn, soprano, and music by Bright Sheng and Penka Kouneva. The Health Humanities & Social Justice BREATH, BODY, VOICE Conference focused on the interdisciplinary interface between the humanities, social justice, and health, whether in the health sciences, clinical environments, or the lived experience of states of health.

Breath, Body and Voice Gala Concert, Part Two: poet Nikki Finney’s A New Day Dawns, read by Imani Mosley, and Stephen Jaffe’s Migrations, with Gabriel Richard.
“Migrations” (Chamber Concerto No. 4 for Violin and Ensemble)
Walking (Part One)
Spirit Walking [violin solo, freely]
Antiphonal [two flutes, guitar, vibraphone, presto]
Adagio piùtosto andante [violin solo, full strings, antiphonal flutes]
Fragments with bones and rattles [violin solo, playing "to percussionist", Rarified]

Evocation (Part Two)
Weave of Pulses and Ladders ("they are…amazing musicians…")
[violin solo, full ensemble — vivacissimo]
Adagio ("…I saw… they left in vans… from the edge of town…")
[violin solo, Adagio, cadenza accompagnata]
Glass Harmonica and Oud-Wood ("May they have peace and solace on their journey")
[violin solo with strings, and then with guitar/oud, viola and cello soli]

Diasporas (Part Three)
Itinerant Violinist (Grazioso, impish) [Violin solo, esp. with mandolin and 2 flutes]
Memory ("I saw…")–Spirit Walking II–Dispersal [Violin solo, with ensemble]
"It means hello and goodbye" [two violins, soli, and dispersed ensemble]

Composer’s Note
Migrations is a three-movement chamber concerto for violin and ensemble. Besides the important solo violin part, Migrations is a concerto of the group: there are many opportunities for musicians of the instrumental complex to participate in a discourse of solo and ensemble– and through movement of musicians, even ways for the audience to experience the work differently than at a normal concert. When I realized, in composing, that the solo violinist would walk, in a kind of concert ritual, it occurred to me that I was also bringing into focus a kind of narrative of migration. This drives the structure of the composition. On a literal level, the violin soloist enters the hall in Part One (Walking), conjoins with the full ensemble in Parts Two and Three (Evocation and Diasporas), and disperses by the end of the work.

On a metaphorical, poetic level, other migrations came to mind. The subtitles for each of the ten movements were inspired, at least obliquely, by the great drama of human migration (Spirit Walking, Weave of Pulses and Ladders, Memory, e.g.). Rather than evocations of specific events (of which there are none) these images are like emblems. Migration may be free. It may be forced, single, or en masse; The Great Migration or the Flight from Egypt. Its memory lives on for generations as culture-bearing people attempt to attain equilibrium in new lands. I was after an energy which would bear witness to migration’s vastness. My new concerto was created as I witnessed the breathtaking events of 2016, but its only specific contribution to political discourse would be if it opened the heart or mind. It’s mostly a musical idea. But music—even the most abstract kind—can serve to keep the ray of hope alive. We should welcome hope, now, and in the years ahead, when migration will most certainly be with us, and in the distant future, into which we must all migrate.

Migrations was commissioned by Penka Kouneva for the Department of Music, Duke University. (-S.J.)

Camera: Robin Wang, Nonnie Egbuna, Eric Barstow
Editing: Nonnie Egbuna, Eric Barstow