Concert Notes

Larry Wallach’s “Species of Motion”

Notes by TŌN oboist David Zoschnick

Larry Wallach is the Livingston Hall Chair in Music at Bard College at Simon’s Rock. He is a performer, composer, musicologist, and educator whose interests span the history of Western music up to the present day, with a particular focus on baroque and modern repertories. After five decades of teaching, he will be retiring from Bard College at Simon’s Rock at the end of the 2023−24 school year. 

Upon first hearing Wallach’s Species of Motion, it was difficult for me to imagine the piece being called anything else. The piece is fluttering, vaporous, effervescent, and never not in motion. It begins with subtle, rapid ostinatos in the strings, which build in a crescendo that, for me, evoke the quick flapping of butterflies’ wings. Pairs of woodwinds then come to the forefront in a mysterious yet sensual dance of couples, playing swift interlocking figures. This scene seems to be interrupted by the arrival of the brass, which play a more angular and march-like rhythmic motif that clashes with the more fluid river of notes in the winds and strings. A jaunty little oboe then haphazardly stumbles out of the sea of strings playing a melody that sounds like it came straight out of an English pub, which then gets repeated and transfigured by the flutes and trumpets. Soaring strings pass around a pleasant melody over quick ostinatos in the lower strings, perpetually pushing us forward on this train of motion, until finally, with the bravado and charisma fitting of a matador, a solo trumpet heroically pierces through the orchestra, playing a proud and flamboyant melody. The piece then begins to wind down, as the perpetual motion created by the orchestra slows to stillness.