20 Feb 2024

M. JARRELL: Émergences-Résurgences

by Jeff Counts

THE COMPOSER – MICHAEL JARRELL (b. 1958) – During a career marked by awards and international successes in every genre, Swiss composer Michael Jarrell is perhaps known best for his extensive focus on music for solo instruments and orchestra. In fact, the majority of his orchestral catalogue is given over to feature pieces for specific virtuosic artists. From 1988 to today, Jarrell has composed concertos (or concerto-like works) for harp, viola, percussion, cello, flute, string quartet and many for piano and violin. His Aquateinte for Oboe and Orchestra was co-commissioned by Utah Symphony in 2016 and given its U.S. premiere in Abravanel Hall.    

Michael Jarrell
Michael Jarrell
© C. Daguet / Editions Henry Lemoine

THE HISTORY – Also co-commissioned by Utah Symphony in 2016 was Émergences-Résrugences for solo viola and orchestra. This concerto, in Jarrell’s own words, “is a direct reference to the pictorial art of Henri Michaux.” Michaux was a Belgian painter (and poet) who was associated with the Tachisme movement in France during the ‘40s and ‘50s. Tachisme was derived from the French word for “stain” and it was, in part, an abstract reaction to Cubism and other structurally cohesive styles. Regarding Michaux’s influence on Émergences-Résrugences, Jarrell continues: “Curves, colours, chiaroscuro, or emphasized lines; I tried to integrate a pictorial dimension into the scheme of this piece and its realization. At the same time, I do not believe that this turns it into a contemplative work. Music, which is essentially an art of time, uses in this case, every dynamic possibility, with the energy of the solo line being highly present from the beginning. Particularly sensitive to the continuity of listening, I tried to shape the musical phrases as I imagine a writer would shape language, remaining as attentive to the greater arch as to smaller inflections. The use of pivot notes, fixed points toward which characteristic figures are attached or repelled, is present from the very start of the piece. The figures stretch, multiply, refract, or tighten, including types of shimmering and sequences sometimes based on echoes, resonances, bifurcations or sudden contradictions. The processes always unfold within a given framework and links exist between the work’s various sections.” Jarrell’s note is a highly intimate glimpse into the mind of a composer who is himself trying to gain access to the mind of a painter and, perhaps more urgently, a violist. This thoughtful approach to form and function must be why so many of the world’s best soloists want to work with him. Jarrell concludes his description of Émergences-Résrugences with, “In some way, I tried to write the kind of music that separates the depth of the past from the abyss of the future.”                                                                                                    

THE WORLD – Elsewhere in 2016, Columbia signed a peace deal with FARC, an attempted coup failed in Turkey, Britain voted to leave the EU and the Chicago Cubs broke their 108-year curse by winning the World Series.

THE CONNECTION – These concerts represent the Utah Symphony and United States premieres of Michael Jarrell’s Émergences-Résrugences.