Vision Machine


for chamber orchestra

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Sample Score Pages
thumbnail of VISION MACHINE website excerpts
12 min.
March 18, 2016
Orpheus Chamber Orchestra
Kauffman Center
Kansas City, MO

March 19, 2016
Orpheus Chamber Orchestra
Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall
New York, NY

Orpheus Chamber Orchestra with support from NewMusicUSA Project Grants
I came to know the “vision machine” over the course of a summer, dropping off or picking up my son at Chelsea Piers in Manhattan. Headed one direction, I was confounded by the more than sixteen hundred colorless windowpanes, tilted in every possible direction at every possible angle, reflecting shades from the Hudson River and the West Side Highway; going the other way, I was grounded by the gritty, black brick that faced the older industrial neighborhood closer to the heart of the city. Jean Nouvel’s luminous building on West Nineteenth Street appeared, from the outside, almost as an insect’s compound eye. Would it be this disorienting from the inside? In the fall of 2015 I was invited up to an apartment that belonged to a friend’s friend. From the black hallways I was emptied into an apartment at the inside of the compound eye, seeing air and sea and feeling not that I was hurtling toward them, but teetering there at the edge.

Several times I’ve composed pieces of music that respond to works of architecture, including Brion in 2008 (to Carlo Scarpa’s Brion-Vega Cemetery in the Veneto), Aqua in 2011 (to Jeanne Gang’s Chicago skyscraper), and In Full Sail in 2016 (to the Frank Gehry IAC Building, just south of Nouvel’s “vision machine”). Each work attempts a conversion into sound of the space’s surfaces and its materials. But more substantially, the form of each work is adapted to the way I was led, by the architect, to experience the space, the way my eyes followed its cavities, the paths I walked.

“Harold Meltzer’s Vision Machine, in its world premiere, was a stunning work replete with striking sonorities and meticulously crafted timbral combinations, all of which complemented the work’s inspiration, Jean Nouvel’s 100 11th Avenue building in New York. The wind opening found the players trading off exaggerated flared crescendos that built into supremely lush textures by the strings akin to a modern spectral impressionism like the works of Jacob Druckman but more approachable. Though existing outside of a melody/accompaniment model, Meltzer’s work treats timbral combinations as sounds objects, and his exquisite transitions between them are organic, original, and outstanding.”” Read the full review »

— Lee Hartman, Kansas City Metropolis, March 22, 2016

“Starting with swelling, overlapping entrances in the winds, he created a glossy, disorienting facade from which emerged an ascending pattern that expanded with a floating quality. The energy shifted and surged as crescendos made way for textures of faraway quiet, subtly embellished with plucks from the harp, bent pitches and the harsh surprise of sliding harmonics. Not easily graspable, it was imaginative and evocative, and the ensemble performed with dedicated nuance.” Read the full review »

— Libby Hanssen, Kansas City Star, March 19, 2016

“To New Yorkers whose daily commute takes them along the West Side Highway, Jean Nouvel’s building at 100 West 11th Avenue, which its architect describes as a “vision machine,” is a familiar sight, a curved structure set with thousands of angled glass panes that make a kaleidoscope of the blues, grays and greens of the sky and river.
“But what does it sound like? On Saturday at Carnegie Hall, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra gave the premiere of Harold Meltzer’s Vision Machine, a breezy and scintillating piece inspired by Mr. Nouvel’s tower. The music deftly captures the interaction of the architecture and its environment, with puffy woodwind chords evoking cloud-chased skies, and delicate arpeggios, traded back and forth between the violin and the harp, mimicking light bouncing off a faceted surface. It is a testament to the skill of the Orpheus players, who perform without a conductor, that the work’s swift changes in mood always felt organic and fluid.” Read the full review »

— Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim, The New York Times, March 20, 2016
Performance History
  • March 18, 2016: Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Kansas City Friends of Chamber Music, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, Kansas City, Missouri
  • March 19, 2016: Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City
  • March 20, 2016: Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto, Canada
  • March 21, 2016: Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Wharton Center for the Performing Arts, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan