Gregory Spears started his piece Circle Stories while on a Fulbright grant in Denmark in 2000 and finished it during his first semester in the Master’s program at Yale. Spears describes Circle Stories as “layered,” both vertically and horizontally. The piece is based on a “chorale” of his own invention. He then wrote a short piece using each chord. “Each invention on a chord will last two or three measures, and there is a different kind of music for each chord.” For each section, there are also layers stacked within the orchestra. “There are different kinds of music, music inspired by Sibelius, and Tchaikovsky, but always behind a veil.” One of the ways that Spears creates “distortion” is through different kinds of string “noise.” He asks the violins, for instance, to produce “normal” sound and “scratching noise” and everything in between. “I’m glad the ACO will be reading this,” he confessed,” they’re not going to be phased by that sort of thing.”
Spears thinks that Circle Stories could be perceived as a “chain of vignettes.” Though the piece is “fragmentary,” he feels that there is still a strong narrative pull. “There are all these little stories chained together,” he commented, “and within each there is a cyclical process being explored.”
At the moment, Spears is finishing the re-orchestration of an earlier work, Dim, for string quartet, vocal quartet, harp, synthesizer, celesta, and percussion. It will be performed on April 26, 2001 as part of the New Music New Haven series at Yale. “It is the opposite of [Circle Stories],” Spears stated. Dim is also based on a chorale, but here he treats it in a more minimalist fashion. The result is “an ambient texture” as opposed to the “more collage-like” orchestra piece.