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Violin Concerto : Fragile Light by DAVID BRUCE


"How can you like something that changes your perception of what music is capable of? It's beyond 'like,' it's beyond 'love.'" on 'Fragile Light'
Program Note

There are three aspects to the subtitle 'Fragile Light'. My writing of this concerto coincided with my attempt to improve my understanding of the universe, by grappling with a book on quantum physics by the Nobel Prize winning scientist Frank Wilczek, 'The Lightness of Being' (the title is a winking reference to Milan Kundera's famous novel 'The Unbearable Lightness of Being'). In the book, the author describes how his love for Physics emerged from a desire to understand the 'hidden life' behind things. It struck me that many of us in different walks of life are attempting to get in touch with this hidden world, which is a kind of spiritual quest, even if it isn't necessarily a religious one. For me composing falls very much into this category, a spiritual quest to understand the world better - and if I'm honest, a life without composing would, for me, feel like it had only 'touched the surface'. The ways in which music achieves what it does and reflects these deeper concerns of our humanity are mysterious, the best we can say is it shines a kind of fragile light on them.

The second aspect is somewhat related. For astronauts the view of earth from space is a deeply spiritual experience, not to mention an environmental one. It becomes clear to them how connected we all are to one another, and how reliant we are on this beautiful planet within the vast emptiness of space. I was similarly struck recently by a photograph known as Pale Blue Dot, taken from the Voyager space craft as it hurtled beyond the edges of our solar system, in which the earth appears as a barely visible spec of light; the entire planet, all of human lives and history contained within a tiny, insignificant fleck in space. I realised that here was another kind of fragile light, and that many of the spiritual reflections in my music circle around my concerns for and connections to planet earth, and the delicate but beautiful life we all find ourselves sharing on it.

Finally, there is a more literal sense of fragility and lightness that can be found throughout the concerto, both structurally - trying to create a structure that lets light in and doesn't get bogged down - and at the level of fine detail, which is often quiet, higher in the register and with textures that are delicate and/or floating. I have also tried to bring a feeling of lightness to bear on my harmonic language, allowing it to similarly float freely. Each of the three movements contain related harmonic movements that girate round in patterns of circles within circles, or spirals within spirals, never 'grounding' themselves in one tonic. In the final movement the metaphor of that receding fleck of light in space can be most clearly heard, as the music climbs higher and higher throughout, before finally disappearing from sight.

1. "Delicate, shimmering"
2. "Misterioso, giocoso, a dance of light"
3. "Inward, reverential"

David Bruce, June 2014

Press / Latest Reviews

San Diego / Jan 2015
Ken Herman

Fragile Light selected as one of the musical highlights ("Bravos") of 2014.

"San Diego Symphony ...scored in December with their commission of David Bruce's Violin Concerto Fragile Light, beautifully executed by soloist Gil Shaham and conducted attentively by Music Director Jahja Ling. An atmospheric, meditative work with a sophisticated minimalist orchestral component, 'Fragile Light' eschewed vapid pyrotechnics but offered significant emotional reward."

San Diego / Dec 2014
Garrett Harris

The world premiere violin concerto by David Bruce was amazing. I didn't like it. How can you like something that changes your perception of what music is capable of? It's beyond "like,” it's beyond "love." As the piece concluded the strings gradually played higher and higher until they had no tone left - until they ran out of string but they continued to bow on without any pitch.

The effect created the sound of an exhalation. The violins were the last to go, which left Gil Shaham playing the most infinitesimal of pitches. He too succumbed to the limits of his instrument and the music evaporated. It was as if we were witnessing someone releasing their very life to us.

It took me deep. I mean, I was close to losing it then and there. I'm not sure where I was headed but it was a place I've never been to before with music.

I've had to pull over because I couldn't see the road through my tears during Butterfly's entrance music or during the piano playout at the end of Dichterliebe but this was something altogether more intense than those beautiful sounds.

As I was being guided toward enlightenment, a different old man says, in his best loud-whisper, "Straaaange."

What's strange is that I didn't stand up and choke him out to his next life.

Perhaps David Bruce's music released some of my self importance and anger. I was in my subjective experience and this other person was in his. It's impossible to say that one is right and the other wrong.

The overwhelming spirit of peaceful release stayed with me. I started to consider what this music could be releasing.

It could be anything. It could be a life. It could be a love or an addiction. It could be a dogma or a pet peeve. It could be a state of releasing everything, a state of non-attachment. I can't say.

What I can say is that this piece of music will have ramifications. Even taking the trash can out to the curb is going to be different tomorrow morning.

San Diego / Dec 2014
Ken Herman

a serious, probing accomplishment...

From Bruce’s concerto title and his characterizations of each movement - Delicate, shimmering; Misterioso, and Inward, reverential - it will surprise no one that this concerto does not explode with motivic pyrotechnics for the soloist, the typical calling card of the warhorse violin concerto. Instead, Bruce has written an expansive minimalist meditation, giving the solo violin gently arched, floating themes accompanied by delicate, undulating string motifs that create a serene mode of contemplation like the "Homage" sections of Olivier Messiaen's "Quartet for the End of Time."

In a few sections, Bruce allowed the soloist and orchestra to pursue more active, robust themes, notably in the middle movement's giocoso mood, but they invariably returned to contemplation. Overall, I appreciated the subtle complexities of Bruce's orchestral textures ...

I believe this Violin Concerto has a future, although it will not be a likely vehicle for up-and-coming soloists who want to prove their technical prowess. But for those violinists like Joshua Bell and Shaham whose acclaim is beyond question, Bruce's "Fragile Light" could prove a welcome antidote to the tedium of repeating the splashy warhorse concertos that are programmed to death.


for Violin and Orchestra

2(I=picc, II=pic)
2 ob
2cl in Bb(I=bass cl)
2 horns
2tp in Bb
2 trb

Duration c.25mins
First performance Gil Shaham, San Diego Symphony, Copley Symphony Hall, San Diego, 12th Dec 2014
Commissioned by San Diego Symphony

Past Performances

  • Dec 12 2014
    Copley Symphony Hall, San Diego (Gil Shaham, San Diego Symphony) (world premiere)

  • Dec 13 2014
    Copley Symphony Hall, San Diego (Gil Shaham, San Diego Symphony)

  • Dec 14 2014
    Copley Symphony Hall, San Diego (Gil Shaham, San Diego Symphony)

  • Jan 14 2015
    Palm Springs Friends of the Philharmonic, CA (San Diego Symphony, Gil Shaham)

  • Apr 13 2019
    446 UNIVERSITY AVENUE, BRIDGEPORT, CT (Gil Shaham, Greater Bridgeport Symphony)

Related Posts

 • New piece for San Diego Symphony (6/9/2017)
 • Fragile Light Premiere (12/17/2014)
 • It's all in the detail (5/15/2014)


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