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About this Piece


Composed: 1999

Orchestration: 3 flutes (3rd = piccolo), 3 oboes (3rd = english horn),3 clarinets (3rd = bass clarinet and E-flat clarinet), 3 bassoons (3rd = contrabassoon), 5 horns, 3 trumpets, 4 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (bass drum, bell tree, chimes, cymbals, glockenspiel, marimba, pitched drums, suspended cymbal, tam-tams, triangle, vibraphone, xylophone), harp, piano ( = celesta), and strings

For Seiji! is a collection of musical thoughts and jottings that form a kind of Festschrift for orchestra, which has been written for Seiji Ozawa and the Boston Symphony Orchestra as they celebrate 25 years of artistic collaboration. These jottings also form little portraits of just a few of the great soloists in the orchestra’s ranks, and at other moments, sketches of entire sectional groups. I’ve attempted to “freeze-frame” some of the wonderful sonorities that the orchestra produces that are among my personal favorites.

The piece is based on the interval of the major second, which — like its sister interval, the seventh — has to be constantly tuned and retuned in performance, according to its modal and harmonic context. Musicians make these adjustments intuitively and the tuning of this small interval is one of the great secrets of good orchestral intonation, which is in turn a major prerequisite to making a beautiful sound.

The piece opens with sonorous brass intoning a low D, which in my mind is a kind of signature pitch level of the Boston Symphony as its sound resonates with the empathetic and all-knowing walls of Symphony Hall. The strings then sound the secondal E and we proceed from there, as a five-note melodic idée fixe carries us along.

— John Williams