Spoliarium (2016)

Composed for the New Juilliard Ensemble

According to some sources the spoliarium in ancient Rome was a chamber attached to the Colosseum into which the bodies of fallen gladiators were sent to be stripped of their armor and dispatched. It is also the subject of the celebrated Filipino painter Juan Luna’s magnum opus, which won a gold medal in the Madrid Exposition of 1884 and now hangs in the main gallery of the National Museum of the Philippines. The giant canvas depicts at its center lifeless gladiators being dragged into the dark of the chamber. On one side a crowd of spectators riots; on the other, a woman weeps.

Though I have taken Luna’s painting as my starting point, as I wrote the piece I sought a more personal meaning to the title. A large, quasi-symmetrical narrative arc provides structure to a number of musical episodes, some of which were inspired by José Rizal’s description of the painting—“the tumult of the throng, the cry of slaves, the metallic rattle of the armor on the corpses, the sobs of orphans, the hum of prayers”—and some that are entirely my own invention.

Also, there are a number of references, some subtle and some blatant, to other pieces of music. Like Luna’s gladiators, I have dragged them into an imaginary chamber to strip them of whatever I might find useful to my own purposes.

Instrumentation: flute (doubling piccolo), oboe (doubling English horn), clarinet in B flat, bassoon, horn, trumpet in B flat, trombone, percussion (1 player: 4 tom-toms, kick drum, bass drum, crash cymbal, China cymbal, tam-tam, tambourine, crotales), harp, piano (doubling celesta and melodica), 2 violins, viola, cello, double bass

Duration: 13 minutes

Premiere: April 21, 2016, Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, New York, NY • New Juilliard Ensemble; Joel Sachs, conductor

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