Time Machine (2003) for three conductors and orchestra was commissioned by the Pittsburgh Symphony. The premiere of Time Machine was given by the Pittsburgh Symphony, conducted by Mariss Jansons, Lucas Richman and Edward Cumming in Heinz Hall, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on November 24, 2003.
Time Machine is an adventure in rhythm, sound and space for three conductors and orchestra. Twenty minutes in length, my composition is divided into two movements entitled Past and Future. By dividing the orchestra into three spatially separated orchestras, I represent the three dimensions of space: forward-backward; left-right; up-down. Orchestra I is located stage right, Orchestra II is located stage left and Orchestra III is located center stage. Because I have composed music where multiple tempos and meters occur simultaneously in the three orchestras, three conductors are required. When the three orchestras play simultaneously, they create a three-dimensional music that makes it possible to travel through the fourth dimension of time.
In Time Machine, I have created a variety of difficult and virtuosic challenges for the three conductors. These include coordinating the three orchestras with visual cues, synchronizing free tempos with conducted tempos, and jointly coordinating different meters that share a common denominator, such as 5/4, 4/4 and 3/4 time. In the first movement entitled Past, we move backward in time as woodblocks from all three orchestras tick at different tempos like mechanical clocks. Orchestras I and II provide antiphonal and polymetric echoes with brisk, dance-like music, reminiscent of the Renaissance. In a slower but related tempo, Orchestra III performs lush melodies and counterpoint, reminiscent of a romantic past. Two percussionists play large rainsticks, which sound like sand running through ancient
Traveling forward in time, the second movement is entitled Future and begins with a mysterious harp solo. Then I introduce harmonic and rhythmic progressions into the three orchestras, in patterns that become increasingly complex. As the music unfolds, two contrasting sound worlds emerge: one with rattling, brutal, pulsating music and the other with lyrical, hypnotic, dreamlike music. During one section, the music is composed as fixed modules but the order is left free to be chosen during performance by the three conductors. In a climactic moment all three orchestras suddenly become synchronized, before disintegrating into staccato chords that are cued by the conductors to create a strobe-like effect. This movement confronts the listener with an unanswered question: are we traveling in time toward a better future, or a more bleak vision as depicted by H.G. Wells in his novel The Time Machine? A dramatic orchestral coda signals the end of our sonic adventure, and our return to the present.
- Michael Daugherty