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cindy mctee


30 minutes

Made possible by the John and
June Hechinger Commissioning Fund for New Orchestral Works.

Commissioned by the National Symphony Orchestra and
Music Director, Leonard Slatkin.

Support also provided by the University of North Texas.

Premièred at the
Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, October 24-26, 2002 and subsequently performed by the NSO at Carnegie Hall on October 30, 2002.


2 Flutes
3 Oboes
Clarinet in Eb
2 Clarinets in Bb
---- (2nd dbl. Bass Clar.)
2 Bassoons

4 Horns
3 Trumpets in C
2 Tenor Trombones
Bass Trombone

3 Percussion


Percussion 1
3 Sus. Cymbals (Sm. Med. Lg.)
Flexatone (Large)
Snare Drum

Percussion 2
Bass Drum

Percussion 3
4 Tom-toms
Suspended Cymbal (Med.)


score & audio examples

Symphony No. 1:
Ballet for Orchestra
first mvmt.
second mvmt.
third mvmt.
fourth mvmt.

commercial recording


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program notes

Made possible by the John and June Hechinger Commissioning Fund for New Orchestral Works, Cindy McTee's Symphony No. 1: Ballet for Orchestra was Commissioned by the National Symphony Orchestra and Music Director, Leonard Slatkin. The work was premièred at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, October 24-26, 2002 and subsequently performed by the NSO at Carnegie Hall on October 30, 2002.

I. Introduction: On with the Dance

II. Adagio: Till a Silence Fell

III. Waltz: Light Fantastic

IV. Finale: Where Time Plays the Fiddle

Music is said to have come from dance – from the rhythmic impulses of men and women. Perhaps this explains my recent awareness of the inherent relationships between thought, feelings, and action – that the impulse to compose often begins as a rhythmical stirring and leads to a physical response – tensing muscles, gesturing with hands and arms, or quite literally, dancing.

In Music and the Mind, Anthony Storr observes that "the designation 'movement' for a section of a symphony, concerto, or sonata attests the indissoluble link between music and motion in our minds . . . " There is also much pleasure to be gained from observing the gestures of a conductor, or from seeing the coordinated bowing of the string sections within an orchestra.

Composer Roger Sessions writes eloquently on the subject as well in The Musical Experience of Composer, Performer, Listener:

The basic ingredient of music is not so much sound as movement . . . I would even go a step farther, and say that music is significant for us as human beings principally because it embodies movement of a specifically human type that goes to the roots of our being and takes shape in the inner gestures which embody our deepest and most intimate responses.

My Ballet for Orchestra emerged out of a similar kinesthetic/emotional awareness and a renewed interest in dance music.

I first explored this approach to composition in an orchestral work entitled Circuits (1990) which reviewer Charles Ward described as follows:

Circuits . . . was a charging, churning celebration of the musical and cultural energy of modern-day America. From repetitive ideas reminiscent of Steve Reich to walking bass lines straight from jazz, Circuits refracted important American musical styles of this century. Similarly, the kaleidoscope of melodies, musical "licks" and fragmented form aptly illustrated the electric, almost convulsive nature of American society near the start of the 21st century.

Although I have never made a conscious attempt to "be" American, I would agree that my musical style generally does reflect my American roots more than my European-based training.

European writers, however, continue to shape my thinking, especially the Swiss psychologist, Carl G. Jung, who felt that creative energy sprang from the tension between the oppositions of conscious and unconscious, of thought and feeling, of objectivity and subjectivity, and of mind and body. So too have the integration and reconciliation of opposing elements become important aspects of my work. The frequent use of circular patterns, or ostinatos, offers both the possibility of suspended time and the opportunity for continuous forward movement. Carefully controlled pitch systems and thematic manipulations provide a measure of objectivity and reason, while kinetic rhythmic structures inspire bodily motion. Discipline yields to improvisation, and perhaps most importantly, humor takes its place comfortably along side the grave and earnest. To quote Lord Byron: "On with the dance! Let joy be unconfined . . . "

Cast in four movements, the work's macro-structure is modeled after the classical symphonies of Haydn and Mozart.

I. Introduction: On with the Dance

On with the dance! let joy be unconfined;
No sleep till morn, when Youth and Pleasure meet
To chase the glowing hours with flying feet.
---- Lord Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage

Inspired by the opening theme of Beethoven's Symphony No. 5, a 3-note motif outlining the interval of a minor third (C, Eb, C) is developed and expanded to also include the interval of a major third (C, Eb, Cb). Following an excursion into a musical world informed by jazz rhythms and sounds, the movement concludes with a recapitulation of the opening material.

II. Adagio: Till a Silence Fell

Allnight have the roses heard
The flute, violin, bassoon;
All night has the casement jessamine stirr'd
To the dancers dancing in tune;
Till a silence fell with the waking bird,
And a hush with the setting moon.
---- Alfred Lord Tennyson, Maud, and Other Poems

The second movement begins without pause, silencing all but the strings to provide a more intimate mood. Adapted from my Agnus Dei for organ in the wake of events following the horror of September 11, 2001, this movement gradually exposes a hauntingly beautiful melody from Krzysztof Penderecki's Polish Requiem (Ab, G, F, C, Db, Eb, Db, C). A falling half-step and subsequent whole-step continue to emphasize the interval of the minor third. With occasional references to Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings, the work's harmonic language reflects my interest in using both atonal and tonal materials within the same piece of music.

III. Waltz: Light Fantastic

Come & trip it as ye go
On the light fantastic toe.
---- John Milton, L'Allegro

Following the classical symphonic model, the third movement is a dance – in this case a quick waltz inspired by a memorable hearing of Ravel's La Valse in 2000 by the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Larry Rachleff. A rising half-step motif in the basses lightens the effect of the falling half-step motif heard in the previous movement.

IV. Finale: Where Time Plays the Fiddle

O, Love's but a dance,
Where Time plays the fiddle!
See the couples advance,--
O, Love's but a dance!
A whisper, a glance,
"Shall we twirl down the middle?"
O, Love's but a dance,
Where Time plays the fiddle!
---- Henry Austin Dobson, Cupid's Alley

Motifs consisting of minor and major thirds as well as jazz elements continue to permeate the textures of the final movement. References to Stravinsky's Rite of Spring can be heard at several other points along the way. Material from the beginning of the piece returns, and a final statement of the opening motif (C-Eb-C) provides closure.


For reviews of Cindy McTee's
featuring four orchestral works (including Symphony No. 1) performed by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra under Leonard Slatkin,
click here.


The dance impulse found further expression in McTee's Symphony No. 1: Ballet for Orchestra (2002), whose third movement takes its inspiration from "La Valse" -- though every bar of this imaginatively scored, 30-minute, four-movement work is infused with kinetic movement. McTee proudly wears her influences on her sleeve, yet manages to slip the noose of mocking bird cliches and pastiche.

The elegiac slow movement for strings alludes to a chromatically sighing melody by Krzysztof Penderecki and Barber's famous "Adagio for Strings." Scampering jazz rhythms -- dig the pizzicato bass -- animate the first movement. Brassy elbow jabs and faux drum-set percussion in the finale suggest a pas de deux between Stravinsky and Max Roach.

The energy and syncopated vernacular also brought to mind film scores of the '50s by Leonard Bernstein, Elmer Bernstein and Alex North, and the music sounded like something Jerome Robbins might have enjoyed choreographing. Slatkin led a dynamic performance of sharply accented rhythms and a delicious tension between fervor and relaxation, though the percussion was too stiff to swing.

Mark Stryker
Detroit Free Press


. . . rhythmically vibrant and immensely entertaining . . .

David Hurwitz
Classics Today


Brilliantly orchestrated . . . the work is notable for its energy, its sense of movement and the skill with which it brings disparate elements into harmony. Although it uses some modern techniques, the effect is . . . extremely audience-friendly. Audiences are likely, in return, to become McTee-friendly.

Joe McLellan
Classical music critic emeritus of The Washington Post


Her compositional muse, she says, "begins as a rhythmical stirring and leads to a physical response," which in this case resulted in a smartly assembled, traditionally structured work that shamelessly borrows licks from [a] myriad sources -- jazz, Beethoven, Ravel's "La Valse" and much more -- but fuses them with highly original skill into a single voice, the composer's own. McTee wrote it on commission for Slatkin and the NSO, who advocated her juicy inventions with stylish commitment, most particularly in the final movement where motifs zigzag freely over a taut rhythmic canvas.

Ronald Broun
The Washington Post


. . . the symphony . . . comes across with a gritty energy and abundant cleverness. There is much to engage the ear - from the growling, down-in-the-depths woodwind solos of the first movement and dark lyricism of the second, to an affectionate take-off on Maurice Ravel's La Valse in the third and groans of exotic percussion instruments punctuating the jazzy fourth. Structural clarity and sophisticated orchestration add to the assets. McTee's style falls into that neo-tonal category so prevalent today, but avoids turning faceless.

Tim Smith
The Baltimore Sun


In the explanatory notes for her Symphony No. 1, subtitled "Ballet for Orchestra," Cindy McTee evokes such literary heavyweights as Jung, Byron and Milton. Sidestepping such portent, however, the piece borrowed more liberally from other sources, particularly Beethoven, Penderecki, Ravel and jazz. The result was a well-crafted, attractive and athletic synthesis that provided ample opportunity for the orchestra to shine, including an audacious extended contrabassoon solo in the first movement, a throaty elegy for the strings in the second and a boisterous, Bernsteinian jazz blowout in the finale, which the audience rewarded enthusiastically.

Steve Smith
The Washington Post


The program's centerpiece was Ms. McTee's work, a four-movement tour of dance forms through which philosophically broader materials are woven. The lush string writing in the slow movement, for example, makes passing allusions to Krzysztof Penderecki's Requiem and Barber's Adagio for Strings; a touch of "La Valse" wafts through the Waltz movement; and the finale touches on everything from laid-back country fiddling to the brutal fortissimo chords of Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" and some decidedly jazzy brass writing.

Ms. McTee's sense of organization kept the work from becoming a pastiche: as diverse as its ideas were, they seemed to unfold naturally within an orchestral fabric that used the ensemble's full coloristic range. The work's dance impulses also gave the program its theme. (Click here for complete review.)

Allan Kozinn
The New York Times