Beautiful Passing is in two halves separated by a violin cadenza. The first half deals with the interaction between the sharply contrasting materials of the violin and the orchestra. The orchestra develops something of a group mentality, a mass hysteria that is both scary and funny. It isn’t so much malevolent as it is mechanical and oblivious to the nuance of the violin. That insensitivity is threatening but like a bull in a china shop, also somewhat funny to observe with enough distance. Gradually, a few members of the orchestra hear the voice of reason and become supportive of the violin. After a cadenza that impresses the orchestra with fluttering delicacy the violin introduces its own version of brutality – crushing triple stops – which command, for the first time a consensus between the orchestra and soloist. In this second part they retain the individuality but conspire toward common goals, unlike the first part.
The governing metaphor of the work has to do with the violin gaining control of its own destiny, competing with, commanding and ultimately letting go of the orchestra. This metaphor arises from my experience, during the composition of the piece, watching my mother gain control of her destiny to the point of predicting the day she would let go, predicting the day of her death. Her last words to me were “Please tell everyone I had a beautiful passing."
“A life-affirming work…”
“It contends, asserts, floats and flickers, but entirely on Mackey's own stylistic terms. The piece is all the stronger for the negativity it grapples with, and maybe that will prove to be so of his work as a whole. Some starry composers have produced violin concertos in recent years - Adams and Adès to name but two. Given the choice, Mackey's is the one whose acquaintance I would most like to renew.”
"Mackey’s concerto has the quality of blowing up the small things in life while grappling with the grave ones of existence and consciousness ... This is fresh, rapturous violin writing, full of swirling harmonics, as if played by an electric guitar transformed by a choir of particularly musical angels into something heavenly."
—Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times