Jordan Holloway – String Sextet No. 1 “Celestial”

This submission to the young composer score call brings to mind film music, outer space, romanticism, and the works of Gustav Holst.  The score to Jordan Holloway’s String Sextet No. 1, “Celestial”, can be found here.

Please note: a new, cleaner version of the score (same music, but with more engraving done) can be found here.  However, I am using the first (original version) link to the score for the purposes of this review.

This piece is remarkable for a young composer in that it takes on a specific subject and successfully executes a plan to artistically comment on and realize the subject.

For example, the work utilizes complex, somewhat polytonal chords, oftentimes in homophony, to create complicated interstellar structures.  In measure 39 we find a prime example of this, which allows the first movement to close on a grand, yet intricate and intimate, way.

Screen Shot 2017-11-01 at 5.27.11 PM

The composer clearly knows how to write for strings.  Not only is the opening of the second movement idiomatic, but it is bowed.  Bowing string parts is generally a good idea because it communicates the composer’s specific intentions, and helps performers if done right.  Even if the performers or conductor completely ignore or rewrite your bowings, having your markings there in print greatly aids in the communication of your ideas and the ability of the performers to get “inside your head”.  The passage in question is also fun to play:

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The composer again chooses a homophonic texture, using divisions of 2, 3, and 4 within 4/4 bars.  I would encourage the composer to experiment with different, complex time signatures.  Like many of the other works in the young composer call, I would encourage the composer to “break out of the barline”–i.e. make one’s music not constrained by barlines, tempo, or meter.

A very successful use of polyphonic writing occurs at bar 66:

Screen Shot 2017-11-01 at 5.35.00 PM

Here, not only is the music layered, but it is orchestrated with a strong bass end and interwoven and supportive lines.  This is an effective use of voice assignment that helps establish a well-knit texture.

I would ask that the composer pay more attention to engraving.  It is a well-written piece that encapsulates a concept and expands it into a colorful sonic landscape, so the engraving should be just as good as the work.  Here are some notes:

  1. Hairpins should align with each other when on the same staff, whenever possible.  Likewise, dynamics should align center with the hairpins (so a hairpin should naturally lead to the dynamic marking).
  2. Watch out for collisions when having multiple articulations and bowings on a single note.  Be sure that these markings are separated enough, and are mindful of the staff lines in the music at the location of their placement.
  3. Your use of tempo markings, expressive text, and technique text are spot-on musically.  Just be sure they are aligned and not colliding, for example in measure 243, where there is some crowding.

Overall, I enjoyed the nature of the fusion between concept and form, and the tune in the fourth movement is really catchy.  Like many of the other works here, this strikes me as something a film composer may enjoy writing.  If this composer is interested in writing for film, then this work is a good start.  If the composer can practice scoring to picture by using free Quicktime movies, that would really help their growth as a musician and composer.

I would recommend listening to:

  1. Christopher Rouse: Flute Concerto (for orchestral color, freedom, and modern tonality/consonance).
  2. Circus Maximus: The 1st Chapter, Track 8: The 1st Chapter (for epic scale, celestial textures, and complex coloring, not to mention rhythmic diversity).
  3. Shostakovich, Symphony in D Minor, Op. 47, Mvt. IV (for control over a large force of instruments). (There is a great recording on Spotify of Shostakovich Symphonies 5 and 9 conducted by Bernstein.)

Great work!

Happy composing,


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