Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

The Premiere of “180 Shift”

I had a premiere in Stockton, California on November 2 and now, with video in hand, I would take the opportunity of sharing it with you.

The name of the piece is “180 Shift”; it is scored for violin, ‘cello, and piano. The piece was composed for and dedicated to a wonderful group called Trio 180 on a commission from the Pacific Arts and Lectures Committee of the University of the Pacific.

The premiere performance was outstanding. The rehearsals were excellent as well, though I have learned over the decades that great rehearsals do not guarantee a great first performance. It is, I think, one of life’s truisms that we never really “know” anything (which includes playing a piece of music) until we have done it in front of other people (or, on the same lines, until we have taught it to other people).

There was a time when premieres made me downright nauseous. I was worried that the players were going to botch the piece; I was worried that the audience was going to hate the piece (and me and my entire genome by extension); I was worried that I was going to vomit, etc. As it turns out, over the past 35 years I’ve only had a couple of semi-botched premieres; the audience did not hate me; and I’ve never chucked either before, during, or after a concert. At this point in time I never worry about performances: que sera, whatever will be will be. My friends, aging can suck: knees go, eyes go, waistlines go, hair goes, and gravity takes control. But for me, aging has had its advantages, and among them is that I have decided that I no longer need to worry about things I cannot control. (Of course, I constantly worry about everything else, but that’s another conversation entirely.)

Not that I had anything to worry about in the case of this premiere, as the members of Trio 180 are consummate pros. My metaphorical hat remains off to Ann Miller (violin), Nina Flyer (‘cello), and Sonia Leong (piano) for their wonderful dispositions and superb musicianship.

The piece runs about 18 minutes. On the link below, the movements run as follows:

I. 00:00-08:32
II. 08:32-14:10
III. 14:10-18:30

For your reading pleasure, here’s my program note.

I. Elegy and Variations
II. Song and Dance (Shake, Rattle and Roll)
III. Re-Invention (Toccatissima)

Aside from being an obvious (if hackneyed) reference to the commissioning ensemble – Trio 180 – the title 180 Shift describes the large-scale dramatic action of the piece: from beginning to end, it traverses an expressive distance of 180 degrees, from elegiac sorrow to hot-footed sizzle.

180 Shift is cast in three movements. Each movement is based on the same thematic material, although that material is transformed continuously across the span of the piece.

Movement one, “Elegy and Variations” consists of a series of a theme, six free variations of the theme and a quiet intermezzo before the sixth and final variation. The movement is melancholy, reflective, and generally subdued in tone.

Movement two, entitled “Song and Dance (Shake, Rattle, and Roll)” sees materials introduced in the Elegy transformed first into a introspective song and finally into a vigorous, gigue-like dance. The three parts of the movement are characterized, respectively, by “shakes” (tremolos), “rattles” (in the piano; we’ll know them when we hear them) and “rolls” (arpeggios).

Movement three – “Re-Invention (Toccatissima)” is fast and virtuosic, a (mostly) two-part invention that sees the basic thematic material re-invented once again.

180 Shift is dedicated, with great affection and respect, to Trio 180: Ann Miller, Nina Flyer, and Sonia Leong.