DA PACEM (2018)
Concerto for ‘Cello and Orchestra
Commissioned by Oberlin College and Conservatory; the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra; the
Aspen Music Festival, Robert Spano, Music Director; and American Composers Orchestra
Duration: 22 minutes
2 Flutes (1st doubles Piccolo 2, 2nd doubles Piccolo 1 and Alto Flute), Oboe, Oboe
d’amore, 2 Clarinets in B-flat (2nd doubles Bass Clarinet), 2 Bassoons (2nd doubles
Contrabassoon), 2 Horns, 2 Trumpets, 1 Percussionist (Crotales, Marimba, Tubular Bells,
4 Timpani, Snare Drum, Guiro, 2 Suspended Cymbals, Sandblocks), Strings (min.
Da Pacem (Fantasia)
In diebus nostris (Scherzo)
Quis pugnat pro nobis? (Introduction, Elegy, and Envoi)
My cello concerto, Da Pacem, takes its title from a Latin hymn that begins “Grant peace in
our day.” It is a reflection on these unsettled and unsettling times. As the work’s
protagonist, the solo cellist journeys through a considerable variety of musical
The first movement is in the tradition of a Renaissance instrumental fantasia, in that it is
partially built upon plainchant, both the Da pacem hymn and the chant fragment, In
nomine, which formed the basis of a whole genre of English instrumental pieces from the
Renaissance through the time of Purcell.
The scherzo, In diebus nostris (“in our day”), bears the tempo marking “nervous,
haunted.” Here the soloist sometimes instigates, sometimes reacts, and sometimes
willfully ignores the material swirling about. Likewise, some of the orchestral response
is at one moment flighty, in the next aggressive, and even, toward the middle of the
movement, engaging in a kind of misdirection.
The title of the last movement, Quis pugnat pro nobis? (“who fights for us?”), is not quite a
quote from the Da pacem hymn, but it’s still a good question. In first sketching the piece,
I had decided to build the central portion of the movement on “Ain’t you got a right to
the tree of life?”, which I first heard as a protest song in the late 60s. While I was
working on the close of this section, the news came about the massacre at the Tree of Life
Synagogue in Pittsburgh, turning what had begun as an abstract musical elegy into a
very real one.
The movement closes with an envoi built upon one further quotation, this time from the
Credo of the Da Pacem Mass once thought to be by Josquin Des Pres but now attributed to
his younger contemporary, Noel de Bauldweyn. It is a brief lattice-work of counterpoint
using a motif that is clearly in ⅞, which thus rhythmically echoes some other turns of
phrase heard earlier in the cello. Following this, the work concludes with a quiet amen.