Grand Central (2012) is scored for chamber orchestra, live audio processing, and video projections and was commissioned by the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. The projected images were taken by Elisa Ferrari and edited by the composer. Nicole Paiement and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music’s New Music Ensemble gave the premiere on March 2, 2013 in San Francisco, California.
Grand Central Terminal is one of New York City’s most cherished destinations with its famous classical façade, elaborately decorated astronomical ceiling painted by Paul César Helleu, and immense columns. This twenty minute work is inspired by the terminal’s architecture and rich cultural history and is cast in four movements:
I. Solari di Udine
The first movement is named after the Italian manufacturer of split-flap departure boards once used in train stations and airports around the world. Now replaced by digital displays, the original electromechanical boards indicated the times and track numbers of arriving and departing trains. Today, the few remaining Solari boards still in use on the eastern seaboard list destinations that are no longer directly accessible, such as Chicago or Los Angeles. This speaks to the decline of railroads in the United States in favor of road and air transport. The names of these forgotten destinations dash by so quickly that they appear to us as ghostlike remnants of the past.
Underneath the hustle and bustle of Grand Central Terminal is an equally active, yet hidden network of regional rail and subway lines. The arriving and departing trains weave in and out of shadow and light, leaving traces of their existence in the clickety-clack of the rails. This movement prominently features the violoncello to create an intricate web of live loops, over which soaring melodic phrases are supported by winds and brass. Passing subway cars punctuate the loneliness of underground station platforms.
III. Grand Stage
Grand Stage investigates the terminal’s microcosm of endless social exchanges through the digital and acoustic manipulation of time. Digitally processed video loops of passengers interacting inside the main concourse are sped up and juxtaposed over a floating bed of slowly changing harmonies devoid of pulse. In essence, our visual and aural sense of time ceases to exist, allowing us an unobstructed view of the terminal as a grand public stage, where daily dramas emerge in an infinite cycle. The musical material and form of Grand Stage is extracted from Harry Von Tilzer’s “Last Night Was the End of the World,” written and recorded in 1913, which coincides with the year Grand Central Terminal was opened to the general public. The song’s lyrics make poetic reference to stars and moonlight, which reminded me of the Mediterranean sky painted on the Grand Concourse’s ceiling.
IV. Iron Horse
The title of the final movement refers to the nickname given to steam locomotives in the early industrial revolution when machines began replacing horse-powered tasks. The age of steam in America is often associated with the rise of standardization and mechanization. Thus, the movement is energetic and fast paced, rife with layered ostinati and motives inspired by the sounds of railroading—bells, whistles, and rollicking wheels.