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Music Composition: George Tsontakis

April 1st, 2005


George Tsontakis

If George Tsontakis’ Violin Concert No. 2 were a building, it would be delicate, made of glass and have lots of windows that could be opened to let in light. And, according to its architect, it would be a compact, lighthearted edifice that was serious and profound in its own way.

Tsontakis, winner of the 2005 Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition for the concerto, spoke at the School of Music weekly convocation March 31, and shared his approach to composition with students, faculty and staff.

“I’ve always been interested in architecture,” Tsontakis said. “I consider it to be a parallel metaphor (to writing music).”

In writing a piece of music, the composer as builder has to decide what form his building, or music, will take. He has to choose what materials he will use for construction and to consider the occupants, if they are known. Since Violin Concerto No. 2 was commissioned by the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Tsontakis said he was able to take the orchestra’s playing style and organization into account when he “built” the concerto.

Violin Concerto No. 2 is a four-movement work in which the violin finds its most prominent role in the title. Throughout the concerto, the violin shares the stage with the other instruments as it engages and intermingles with them, he said. He wrote the violin as being equal to the other instruments to reflect the structure of the orchestra, which he described as a democratic group of 30 solo musicians.

Violin Concerto No. 2 received its world premiere April 19, 2003, by Steven Copes, violin, and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra under the baton of Miguel Harth-Bedoya. Since that time, Tsontakis has added nine measures to the piece and said that he could add nine more before he is totally satisfied.

“I think every work ends with dot, dot, dot,” Tsontakis said.

“Some of my music just evaporates sometimes because I don’t know how to end it,” he said. “It disturbs me that my chosen medium (music) is expected to end.”

Out of necessity, composers write each piece as if it is the only one they will write, he explained, but they still hope listeners will hear each piece within the greater catalog of their work.

Tsontakis played portions of a recording of his concerto for the audience.

He talked about the use of scales as a favorite composition technique, such as in the movement titled Cavatina, and explained the play on words of the second movement’s title Gioco, the Italian word for “game.” The movement parodies nursery rhyme games, but it also draws from the teaching technique an Italian composer with whom Tsontakis studied used of making composition a game. Another movement reflects Tsontakis’ heritage with passages reminiscent of the music of Crete.

Tsontakis said he draws inspiration from his experiences and what he hears around him, as opposed to composers who try to create music that is unique.

“Artists have to rededicate themselves every day to harnessing their inspiration,” he said. “I feel like I am just beginning as a composer…that I am just beginning to write music.”

World Order: Roberta Cohen and Francis Deng
Education: Elliot W. Eisner
Psychology: Elizabeth Loftus
Religion: George M. Marsden

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