Anthony Paul De Ritis is chairman of the composition department at Northeastern University in Boston. He studied with Richard Felciano and Jorge Liderman and over the summers worked with Spectralist Tristan Murail at the American Conservatory at Fontainebleau near Paris. Other significant professors included William Duckworth and Kyle Gann as an undergraduate at Bucknell University, where he also had a concentration in business administration; and he has a Masters in electronic music from Ohio University. He also scores music for video games and is a developer of the Boston Symphony's Online Conservatory in collaboration with Northeastern. All of this activity seems to be pertinent to the composer's work.
This program opens with Legerdemain (1994), an explosive 10-minute piece for orchestra and electronics, with the orchestral sound extended with a reverb-delay processor controlled by a synthesizer. The work is both angular and static, with a background of "tau" harmonies and clear, almost tonal root progression typical of the Spectralist style.
The somewhat earlier Chords of Dust (2002) is devoid of electronics. It is cast in a traditional ABA (slow-fast-slow) design, the fast part intense and exciting, with the recap of the slow section introducing a strangely Spanish motive in the solo oboe. The piece is based on overtone series in the Spectralist mode, lending the work a postmodern tonal feel.
Devolution (2004), a concerto for turntable and orchestra, is the most recent piece on the program. Written for the famous hip-hop turntable-ist DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid (real name Paul D. Miller), the half-hour piece has Mr Spooky making funny electronic noises and spinning cool hits like Ravel's Bolero and the slow movement of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony, which appears about 17 minutes in with a rock beat. It is followed by a four minute turntable cadenza. The rhythmic repetitions of those two pieces tempt the assertion that they are somehow classy rock music predecessors, and I won't comment on that. Mr De Ritis's often quasi-minimalist spectral excursions recur as orchestral commentary over the course of the work. The end result is a trippy collage that must have entranced its Oakland East Bay Symphony audience (the Ravel and Beethoven works were on the same program at the premiere performance). Today's turntables are, like everything else, computer-driven, and as a result have a tremendous amount of sonic and editorial flexibility, so nowadays it's an authentic electronic instrument that demands a skilled operator. Of course, how it's programmed may be changed with every performance, so this may be considered one possibility among many. Performance and interpretive choice has been standard operating procedure for much post-Cage art music for a long time. In this case only the instrument is relatively new (but this is not the first turntable concerto).
This piece, which takes up half the program and is its main attraction, is geared toward hip modem music audiences, but most of all to younger audiences that are assumed to be intimidated by a standard classical music concert. Commentary on this condition has been discussed exhaustively in these pages. Notes by the composer and Boston Symphony annotator Robert Kirzinger