In late December 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Tucson composer Bob Atwell approached Charles Bontrager, Music Director of the Civic Orchestra of Tucson, and Wallace Burney, its president, about the orchestra’s interest in performing a work in memory of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Four months later, the performance became a reality and can now be viewed on YouTube.
Read about this piece at Tucson.com (the website of the AZ Daily Star), published on May 14, 2021.
When naming the work, Atwell reflected on how Ruth Bader Ginsburg often provided a strong solo voice of legal reasoning. He decided to use the notes D, Bb, and G as a mini motif to represent her initials. The fact that she spent 13 years (a prime number) on the appeals court and 27 years (3 cubed) on the Supreme Court prompted him to extend the motif to 5-, 7-, and 11-note sets of pitches (all prime numbers). These (and their inversions) became the basis for the work’s melodies. Atwell comments, “I also noticed that in my 11-note set of pitches there was no B natural. This made me think of the famous soliloquy from Hamlet, which starts ‘To be, or not to be….’ To follow through with this concept, I decided not to use the note B natural anywhere in the piece until the very last chord.”
Rather than using a standard-sized orchestra, which would be challenging to assemble during the pandemic, Atwell wrote the 10-minute piece for five separate ensembles of musicians: one group of strings, 2 woodwind quintets, and two brass quintets. In all, 38 volunteer musicians participated in the performance. Each group rehearsed and was recorded independently. Bontrager used a metronome pulse in an earbud to establish a consistent tempo for each recording. Composer Atwell spent many hours editing the audio and video and mixing everything together into the final product. Because each musician was independently miked, volume levels could be adjusted in post-production. Read more about Bob Atwell.
During rehearsals, safety precautions were enforced. Masks were mandatory (except for winds and brass when playing), hand sanitizers were available, musicians were spatially distanced with no sharing of music stands, no restrooms or kitchen were available, rehearsals lasted about 1 hour with several different ensembles meeting each evening, but not together.
Music Director Bontrager applauds the project. “For years I have celebrated the opportunity to help bring new works to life. Therefore, when Bob Atwell approached me with this project I willingly jumped in with both feet—apart from my skeptical, old-fashioned reluctance to create something in the time of COVID-19. But, Bob had a vision and I am so happy to have bought into that vision and this project. ‘Soliloquy’ is a lovely and extremely well-crafted piece that, to a large degree, uses traditional compositional techniques. Certainly, this is true to the ear. To the heart and mind, composer Atwell’s skill often stretches us beyond traditional harmonic and rhythmic expectations with very satisfying results. I am quite confident that the listening and viewing cyber audience will agree. On behalf of the musicians, administration, and artistic leadership of The Civic Orchestra of Tucson, I wish to express gratitude to Bob Atwell for bringing us to this musical adventure.”
Musicians Performing “Soliloquy”
Violin I Violin II Viola Cello Double Bass Audio Recording
Emily Evans, Concertmaster
Stephan Schmidt, Accent Audio Productions
Woodwinds 1 Woodwinds 2 Brass 1 Brass 2 Video Recording
Flute 1 – Fran Moskovitz
Flute 2 – Caleb Hathway
Clarinet 1 – Chauncey Roach
Clarinet 2 – Rich Grossman
Bass Clarinet – Deon Hill
Oboe 1 – Zachary Ashland
Oboe 2 – Wren Requist
English Horn – Sydney Streightiff
Bassoon 1 – Barbara Bayless
Bassoon 2 – Deborah Gurocak
Horn 1 – William Winkelman
Horn 2 – Elaine Walter
Horn 3 – Steve Ralsten
Horn 4 – Taylor Drake
Euphonium – Thomas Herrera
Trumpet 1 – Richard Blickenstaff
Trumpet 2 – Larry Redhouse
Trombone 1 – Thomas Landon
Trombone 2 – Mike Doyle
Tuba – Ken Wilson
Charles David Young