Koh, Joyce Bee Tuan: Divergent Plates (accordion and orchestra) 33′

First performance by Frode Haltli and Singapore Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Okko Kamu on 27 September 2003 at Esplanade Singapore.

Second performance by Frode Haltli and Stavanger Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Susanna Mälkki at on 9 October 2003. Live broadcast on Norwegian National Radio.

2(picc/al flute) – 2(ob/c ang)-2(cl/bs cl) – 2(bsn/c-bn)/ 2-2trps-2(trb/bstrb) -1/ timp/ 3 perc/ harp/ 8-8-6-4-4(minimum)


The poetic idea of the piece is the movements of tectonic plates. Divergent plates are plates which move in opposite directions and with different velocities, creating a “rift”. The playing gestures of the accordion itself may allude to such geological activity, in the way its two halves are being pulled apart and pushed together. The musical concept emanates from the calligraphy of the Chinese character wei. There are three principal movements and two interludes. The compositional strategy is based on my interpretation of the writing of wei, in terms of its formal structure, such as the order of the brush strokes, their directions and velocities, and the density of the ink as it flows on the aural canvas.

In the opening movement, EMBRACE, the accordion unfolds the chordal material of the entire concerto. With each new chord, the accordion pulls in more orchestral resources. Visually, the soloist is embracing the orchestral colours into his arms. INTERLUDE 1 echoes the opulence of the first movement in a more intimate and chamber music-like setting. The middle movement, SPINE, is quick paced and in perpetual motion. The accordion material forms a “spine” from which the orchestra extracts and extends. In INTERLUDE 2 the energy of the second movement, though residual, persists in the percussion. In the concluding movement, INCISION, there are three distinct gestures; firstly, a large orchestral chord followed by a descending figure; secondly, an iterated attack, played ritardando or accelerando; thirdly, a continuous stream of activity in the accordion, magnified by certain instruments. The three gestures interrupt each other, as if making incisions into each one’s musical terrain.

Joyce Bee Tuan Koh