a concerto for electric violoncello and large ensemble

Commissioned by the Oberlin Contemporary Music Ensemble

Traditionally speaking, the soloist acts as the hero of the concerto who, during the course of the piece, battles with the orchestra and eventually is triumphant in their conquest, whereby the concerto comes to an end.  Historically, this is especially true of 19th century music where a piece, and in this case a concerto, is seen as the philosophical and also allegorical struggle between Man and Nature.  The struggle, most often portrayed through the agon brings the soloist one more step closer to conquering nature yet again.

In a lot of ways, my piece is very similar to this approach, the ‘cello acts as the hero and overall, the piece is about a struggle between two opposing forces.  However, where Fuel differs from this allegory, is that the hero does not win the agon, and if we assume that the cello is representative of Man, then Man, becomes so unnatural in the course of trying to change its surroundings, that Nature becomes unnatural too leaving nature no other choice then to stamp the hero right out of existence.

On the literal level, Fuel is about a metamorphosis of material, structurally, harmonically and orchestrationally. The ‘cello initiates the changes while the orchestra tries to keep up, constantly trying to pull the ‘cello back in to the comfortable and organic language it sets up in C60. The orchestra acts as the “fuel” to the ‘cello, feeding it and nurturing it until the cello becomes aware of its own existence.  It is here that the transformation takes place: the ‘cello slowly becomes increasingly dissonant and distorted by use of processing the signal of the cello through effects and begins to move away from the original pitch material into a more chromatic/microtonal environment. The ‘cello attempts to fuel the orchestra, but does not succeed.

I began composing Fuel in May 2000 with the original impetus being a quote from Orwell’s 1984: “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever.”  This quote pointed me into the direction of killing off the hero at the end of my piece and subsequently set up the entire structure of the piece.  I finished the first version of the piece in September 2000 and re-orchestrated it over the summer of 2001.  The piece was eventually completed in Oberlin on October 27th 2001, complete with a new 2nd movement.  Although the piece was completed out of order, the piece contains most of the music making I have been interested in over the past few years, mainly motoric and virtuosic lines and slow, timeless “sospeso” landscapes.  It also gave me the opportunity to create this (in a sense) custom-designed concerto for Kivie, who is one of my best friends and who has played almost all of the music I have written in Oberlin, and has been the biggest supporter of my work.

Concerning the titles of the movements C60 is a molecule made up of 60 atoms of carbon, which forms a spherical-like structure similar to a soccer ball.  It is commonly referred to as Buckminsterfullerine or, Buckyballs.  Carbon, the simplest of all atoms, is the basis of all life forms.  Bitumen is a mixture of tarlike hydrocarbons derived from petroleum. Black or brown, it varies from viscous to solid; the solid form is usually called asphalt.  Ethanol, is an organic compound, most important of the alcohols. Produced by fermentation, it is the intoxicating ingredient in alcoholic beverages. Moderate amounts depress the inhibitory activities of the brain, and so appear to stimulate the mind.  Diesel is an internal-combustion engine in which air is compressed to a temperature sufficiently high to ignite fuel injected into the cylinder, where combustion and expansion activate a piston. It converts the chemical energy stored in the fuel into mechanical energy, which can be used to power large trucks, locomotives, ships, small electric-power generators, and some automobiles. Compared to other internal-combustion engines, diesel engines are expensive and heavy and produce more air pollution, noise, and vibration.

Fuel was written for ‘cellist, Kivie Cahn-Lipman in 2000-01 and is dedicated to Kivie, Lewis Nielson, Wally Scharold and Tim Weiss.

VC — Nov. 2001



I. c60
II. Bitumen
III. Ethanol [cadenza] 
IV. Diesel


Solo Electric Violoncello

2 Flutes (II. doubles Picc.), 2 Oboes (II. doubles English Horn), 2 Clarinets (I. doubles Eb, II. doubles Bass), 2 Alto Saxophones (I. doubles Baritone), 2 Bassoons (II. doubles Contrabassoon), Horn, Trumpet, Trombone, Timpani, 2 Percussionists: [I. Glockenspiel, Crotales, Vibes, Xylophone, Marimba, Chimes, Bass Drum, Snare Drum, 2 Bongos, 3 Suspended Cymbals, Tam-tam, Auto Coil, Anvil, Whip, Rute, 3 Woodblocks, 5 Temple Blocks; II. Glockenspiel, Crotales, Vibes, Chimes, Bell Tree, 2 Bongos, Conga, 5 Tomtoms, Rototoms (F-G), Small Snare Drum, Snare Drum, Kick Drum, Bass Drum, 3 Suspended Cymbals, Tam-tam, Small Chinese Gong, Auto coil, 2 Brake Drums, Large Cowbell (unpitched), 4 Woodblocks, Large Castinet, Tambourine, Ratchet, Whip, 2 Large Cardboard Tubes, Washboard, Large Wooden box], Pianoforte (doubles Celesta and Synthesizer), 4 Violins, 2 Violas, 2 Violoncelli, Contrabass


30 Minutes


11 November 2001
Oberlin Contemporary Music Ensemble
Kivie Cahn-Lipman – Electric Cello
Stefan Tcherepnin – Electronics
Tim Weiss – Conductor
Finney Chapel — Oberlin, Ohio