Commissioned by ASCAP and Meet the Composer, Ecstatic Orange was written between June 1984 and February 1985, and then premiered by the Brooklyn Philharmonic on May 10, 1985 at Cooper Union in New York City.
A meaning of the word "ecstatic" that associates most directly to the intent of this piece is: uplifted frenzy. It is an earthy, physical kind rather than spiritual or ethereal. The frenzy is, however, contained in a kind of stasis (like someone confined to desk work as the caffeine of the morning's coffee reaches his blood). The elements of rhythm and counterpoint are active in this piece while the melody and harmonic language are static and untransposed. This musical state is maintained from beginning to end expressing a single dramatic sweep.
The active material is a constant sixteenth note pulse which runs throughout as a grid that is shattered into fragments. These fragments form tiny canons that sometimes disperse the basic melody and other times recombine in overlapping ways to etch out that melody.
The static material is 1) a six note melody, G#-A-D-C#-B-E (with the option to extend it with two more notes: G natural-D#). The melody is not transposed or varied, rather it appears in its same order in different contexts. It is as though the insistent melody wears different clothes as the piece proceeds. 2) a four bar bass line with low E as the fundamental notes, with the fourth bar serving as a periodic turnaround to lead back to its repeat. 3) The harmonic world of E mixolydian.
A listener might have the expectation that a piece whose intent is to be "ecstatic," employing tight rythmic fragments to form an increasing tension, would aim all the elements of the music towards maximum movement. But in this piece the non transposing features of the six note melody and E mixolydian harmony work towards a stasis, not towards movement or progression. THis does not contradict the general musical animation. Think of an athlete working out on a stationary exercise bike. He is burning the same calories as the cyclist on the road. The difference is the focus of energy.
So ideas of static and ecstatic, possibly antithetical, can actually work together in a unified way.
It was once suggested to me that a way to create musical form is to establish a point of reference; for instance, create a room, then move away; walk outside of that room, and then finally return. Sonata form works that way, as do popular songs with a verse and chorus. My feeling now is there is a lot of interesting things in a room once the room is established. Why walk away from a good party?
As the music began to center increasingly around this G# melody, the color orange burned more insistently in my imagination. Certain musical ideas make me think of colors. This personal synesthesia contributed its own vibrancy to my attitude towards the material. In the end, different shades of paint splash around the orchestral forces, but it is always some hue of orange.