Stucky's Symphony was completed in July 2012. It was commisioned by the LA Philharmonic and the New York Philharmonic. Stucky has a shaky history with symphonies, this being his fifth and only published, yet he calls the symphonic orchestra home as a writing medium. While it is not broken up by movements, it does have movement-like titles written in the score. Stucky calls it a purely musical narrative avoiding any personal confessions in the story. Instead, Stucky self-describes the piece as a journey that leaves the listener in a better place than they began.
In Introduction and Hymn, the piece begins with lonely woodwind solos, which swell into the billows of woodwing texture before delivering a slowly developing brass chorale. Suddenly, the peaceful conclusion of the first section is interrupted by a two note motif signaling the second section, Outcry. Music of hope and peace has been replaced by music of turmoil and anguish. Spurred on by the two note motif, the music becomes faster and more agitated as it moves toward the third section, Flying. It is then as if the orchestra has broken free from the emotional cluthces of the second section and can let go in fast, virtuoso playing. Suddenly as the music has reached the apex of frenzy, it gives way to the final Hymn and Reconciliation: massive string chords against which, one by one, earlier music returns. The brass hymn and woodwind billows from the first section, the turbulent theme from the second section now recollected in tranquility, and finally the two note motif, once anguished but now serene.
Compared to other works by Stucky, the title of this piece is misleading. It doesn't exactly follow any traditional forms of the symphony, and it is much closer to a tone poem, although it doesn't tell a specific story. Compared to Stucky's choral works, it is far more audience oriented in terms of graspability. Other, shorter works by Stucky tend to be quite lofty in compositional technique. Symphony largely sounds like a filmscore.
Symphony is a fairly modest piece, only 20 minutes, of colorfully orchestrated work. The music is quite graspable, but that it is called a symphony seems an overstatement. On the premiere of the piece, it was the shortest on the program of Barber's Violin Concerto and Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances. It has been said that the piece gives away its secrets too readily, and I tend to agree. Frankly, there is nothing that I'm more curious about after having heard it once.
Steven Stucky, composer. Official website. Accessed May 2, 2014. http://www.stevenstucky.com/index.shtml
Tommasini, Anthony. "A New Work Bares Its Secrets, With Feeling," New York Times. Accessed May 2, 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/01/arts/music/new-york-philharmonic-plays-steven-stuckys-symphony.html?_r=0