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November 19, 2017: Los Angeles Guitar Quartet

Phillip Houghton (b. 1954) is one of the most recorded and influential Australian guitars composers. His work expresses a distinctly Australian aesthetic, reflecting the country’s vast landscapes and mystical “dreamtime” Aboriginal legends. He is famously a synesthete, wherein he sees very specific colors when he hears musical tones and timbres. “Opals” (1993, revised 2014) is a three-movement work for guitar quartet, and it attempts to capture the myriad glints and sparkles emanated by Australia’s opalescent national gemstone. In the score, there are detailed notes describing the particular colors and sheens that the music attempts to evoke. The composer provided the following notes for each movement:

Rather than being pitch-black, the Black Opal is a stone of fantastic colour. Electric reds, purples, blues and greens of every shade predominate and refract and collide, in a fiery rainbow of splinters of brilliant light against a dark matrix. One could say that the opal is “made” from water, and, in the “Water Opal” movement, I imagined a kaleidoscope of colour in and against a transparent “water matrix”…colours floating, bleeding into each other. Against a white matrix the lighter colours of the White Opal are brilliant and translucent. Evident in this stone is what is called “pinfire” (glittering points of red and green) and the “rolling flash” (which describes the effect of layers of colour which, ripple abruptly and sparkle through the stone when the stone is moved).

© William Kanengiser

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