A Chess Game for Piano and Orchestra

Checkmate! is a short concerto for solo piano and orchestra. The piece contains six short melodic themes, each of them representing a specific chess piece: king, queen, bishop, rook, knight, pawn. These short themes are played at the beginning of the work, to introduce them to the audience. The full work is based exclusively on the use of these six themes, alternating between the orchestra and the piano. The sequence of themes follows the chess moves of the famous game played in 1996 by Garry Kasparov against Deep Blue, a computer developed by IBM. For the first time in history, a chess-playing computer defeated a reigning world champion. The piano part is based on Kasparov’s moves and the orchestra part is based on those of Deep Blue. Of course, during the piece, the piano and orchestra will often play at the same time. However, whoever is playing the “chess move” will always remain in the foreground with one of the main themes.

During the concert, the actual chess game on which the composition is modeled is meant to be displayed, in real time, on a large screen above the orchestra. Therefore, a PowerPoint file including images of every move of the chess game is included with the material of the piece. In the score, it is precisely indicated when to change the images for each corresponding chess move. If the orchestra wishes to perform the piece with the projection of the chess game, it simply needs someone to control the PowerPoint presentation while following the score. In this way, the chess game is integrated to the performance and this piece is its soundtrack.

Instrumentation: piano solo / / / timp+1 / strings

Duration: 12 minutes

Commissioned by the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra, and their artistic director Alecia Lawyer.

Dedicated to the progressive rock keyboardist and composer Keith Emerson, who, teamed up with his bandmates Greg Lake and Carl Palmer, showed a teenaged me how cool classical music is.

Premiere: September 21st, 2018, by the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra, at the Miller Outdoor Theatre, in Houston, TX, United States.

Media Coverage of Checkmate!

Launch of the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra 14th season, announcing the premiere of Checkmate!

Performances of Checkmate!

2018, Sept. 22 | River Oaks Chamber OrchestraLara Downes and Paul Watkins | St. John the Divine, Houston, TX, United States
2018, Sept. 21 | River Oaks Chamber OrchestraLara Downes and Paul Watkins | Miller Outdoor Theatre, Houston, TX, United States (premiere)