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Most of us, when confronted with the term “graffiti,” are likely to associate it with the rather desolate wall scrawlings all over our urban landscapes. However, this is not the whole picture: no less artists than Klee, Miró, Dubuffet, and Picasso were interestedin it (the latter painting examples himself on Parisian walls). In our time, there is the highly interesting and controversial phenomenon of Street Art, which has occasionally wittily succeeded in criticizing the commercialization of cities. At their best, street artists have been able to thwart the expectations created by omnipresent mass media and by advertising - one can find some particularly remarkable examples in metropolises such as Berlin, Paris, or New York.
Though this was the initial stimulus for Graffiti, it finally branched into rather different directions: it is only very loosely, ifat all, connected to the phenomenon of Street Art (or to the visual arts). The music is not illustrative nor is it programmatic and the main idea was to compose a music which is not restricted as to time or place, and which offers strong contrasts between different modes of expression.
The three movements headings give a hint of the changing modes, moods, and structures of the music. The first movement, Palimpsest,is polydimensional and many-layered; one can hear allusions to a multiplicity of styles. The second movement, Notturno urbano, forms a strong contrast to the hyperactive previous movement. It starts with distant and gradually approaching bell-like sounds, from which the whole movement's musical material is being derived. The instruments are often used in an unconventional way: the winds as well as the strings employ extended techniques, which contributes to the aloofness and the mysteriousness of the movement. The third, highly virtuosic, movement, is a kind of an 'urban passacaglia' (the name of this musical form actually derives from the Spanish 'pasar una calle', 'to walk along a street'). It consists of eight incisive chords, which are played continuously by the brass, albeit always in a different way. Two worlds collide in this movement: the brass attacks are commented upon by flitting interjections of different instruments, which are highly varied in character and length.
As a whole, the musical language of Graffiti shifts between roughness and refinement, complexity and transparency. It is rich in contrast and labyrinthine, neither tonal nor atonal. Graffiti calls for great agility, virtuosity, and constant changes of perspective from the musicians; each instrument is being treated as a soloist.
Graffiti was commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association, Barbican, London; Orchestra Ensemble Kanazawa, Kunststiftung NRW and Ensemble musikFabrik. It was first performed on 26th of February 2013 by the Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group conducted b
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