Andrew Norman

Gran Turismo for Eight Virtuoso Violinists

Born October 31, 1979; now living in Los Angeles, California

Tonight’s concert introduces BSO audiences to Los Angeles-based composer Andrew Norman and his exciting, high-octane Gran Turismo, written for eight violinists arrayed in a circle. Orchestras from around the world — including the Los Angeles and New York philharmonics, The Philadelphia Orchestra, Amsterdam’s Royal Concertgebouw, and Paris’ Orchestre National de France — have been busy commissioning this kinetic composer, whose music has been praised by the Los Angeles Times for its “audacious spirit” and “Chaplinesque wit.”

In 2017, Norman was named Musical America’s “Composer of the Year.” That same year, he was awarded the extremely prestigious Grawemeyer Award for his large-scale orchestral work Play, whose recording was also nominated for a 2016 Grammy Award in the Best Contemporary Classical Composition category.

Norman’s commentary about Gran Turismo is nearly as vivacious as the work itself:

“Right around the time I began sketching a motoric, virtuoso piece for violin ensemble, I discovered Futurist art for the first time. And right around the time I discovered Futurist art, I encountered — in a brief but blazing way — an addictive car-racing video game that bears the name ‘Gran Turismo.’

“Soon I realized I was experiencing one of those serendipitous moments when the disparate facets of my life fall into an unexpected resonance with one another. The musical ideas, the art, and the video game all shared things in common — most obvious among them a preoccupation with really fast cars. They also shared a certain flamboyant machismo that I associate strongly with the Italian peninsula (it was the Italians, after all, who produced Vivaldi, Marinetti, and Ferrari).

“There were other striking parallels as well: the way that ‘force lines’ rigorously divided space and created a dramatic sense of visual rhythm in much Futurist art. This is notably present in Giacomo Balla’s 1913 and 1914 paintings of speeding cars, which resembled the jerky sequencing of imagery in the video game, which in turn became a metaphor for the cut-and-splice method of juxtaposition that permeates the violin piece. In addition, the reiteration of fragmentary motives in the art recalled the repetitive visual vocabulary of the racing game as well as the obsessive motivic hammering of the violin music.

“The limited color palette of the Balla paintings seemed fitting to describe a piece scored for a pack of like instruments, and the competition between leader and followers at the core of the video game has many parallels in the Baroque model of soloist versus ensemble that is so prominent in the piece.

“I let these intriguing resonances rev up for a time in my head, and when I finally set my pencil to the start line, the piece took off. Much like the music itself, the process was fast and furious and full of stop-on-a-dime changes. It was a creative joyride to work on a piece that, from the opening gesture to the final bar, is headed along only one emphatic trajectory: HIGHER1LOUDER1 FASTER1”

Notes by Janet E. Bedell copyright 2018