What a Day

“What a Day has that element of genius – simplicity, modernity a sense of humour AND immediate connection with an audience! It was a joy to be part of its creation process.”
Boris Brott

What a Day, a four-movement work for string orchestra that draws a parallel between the unfolding of a day and that of a life, as if the one was a microcosm of the other. The work consists of a suite of four brief movements, each representing both a moment in a day, and a moment in a lifetime. Thus the first movement, “Joyful Morning”, opens with a glissando from a unison to a great chord, evoking both sunrise and a child’s first moments in the world. The very energetic music that follows represents both a busy morning and a child jumping into life. The second movement, “Long Day at Work”, is characterized by a clock ticking sound and an accumulation of many repeated motifs. These express both the passing hours of a working day, and the years passed at a school desk. The third movement, “Tête-à-tête Evening”, is a duo for the solo violin and the solo cello, accompanied by the ensemble. It represents both an intimate evening for two, and the life of a couple. With its light and dreamy textures, the fourth movement, “Serene Night”, depicts, on one hand, sleeping and dreaming, and, on the other, calmness and serenity emerging in the final phase of a life. The work ends, as it began, with a unison. It thus musically circles back on itself, like one day linking to the next, and like a life that ends as it begins.

The work freely draws inspiration from the theme and variations form. Just as certain ideas or thoughts occupy us throughout a day or a life, in What a Day the same melodic materials reappear, though changed, from one movement to the next. The idea of tackling form in this way came from reading Milan Kundera’s The Book of Laughter and Forgetting.

In order to reinforce the work’s concept and better stimulate the listener’s imagination, several objects are placed on stage for the orchestra to interact with. Thus, in “Joyful Morning”, an alarm clock sounds to suddenly launch the movement. In “Long Day at Work”, a time clock is punched to mark the beginning and the end of the movement. A candle is lit at the opening of “Tête-à-tête Evening” to create a mood of intimacy between the two soloists. In “Serene Night” a grandfather clock ticks the rhythmic pulse of the introduction and, at the very end, the candle is snuffed out as if it was a life’s last breath.

The stage lighting changes during the performance of the work according to the time of day represented by the music. Thus the piece begins in darkness; the only lights are those on the music stands. Then, just before the alarm clock goes off, the stage as a whole is gradually illuminated, as if the sun was rising. To create an intimate atmosphere in “Tête-à-tête Evening”, the two soloists are individually lit, while a candle burns between them. At the end of “Serene Night” the musicians, one by one, turn off the lights on their music stands, and then the conductor blows out the candle, leaving the concert hall in total darkness.

What a Day, dedicated to The Beatles, inverts their song “A Day in The Life”; it represents a life in a day.

Instrumentation: string orchestra

Duration: 13 minutes

Suggested program:
– Vivaldi: The Four Seasons*
– Piazzolla: The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires*
– Leroy Anderson: The Syncopated Clock, The Typewriter and Sandpaper Ballet

*Just like The Four Seasons, What a Day divides a time period into four musical movements.

Commissioned by the McGill Chamber Orchestra and their artistic director Boris Brott.

Dedicated to The Beatles.

Premiere: May 9th, 2011, by the McGill Chamber Orchestra and the conductor Boris Brott, at the Pollack Hall, in Montréal.

Discography: What a Day was recorded by the Orchestre classique de Montréal and conductor Jacques Lacombe, and is featured on the album Symphonie de la tempête de verglas, published in 2023 by ATMA Classique.

Performances of What a Day

2021, Apr. 25 | B-A-C-H Chamber Ensemble, The Soloists of Russia, Nikolai Usenko | Museum of Ekaterinburg History, Ekaterinburg, Russia

2015, Nov. 24 | McGill Chamber Orchestra, Boris Brott |Bourgie Hall, Montreal, QC
2015, Nov. 15 | Orchestre de chambre Serenade, Philippe Ménard | Église Catholique de Saint-Lambert, Saint-Lambert, QC
2015, Nov. 14 | Orchestre de chambre Serenade, Philippe Ménard | Chapelle Historique Notre-Dame de Bon-secours, Montreal, QC

2011, July 15 | National Academy Orchestra of Canada, Boris Brott | Glen Gould Studio, Toronto
2011, July 14 | National Academy Orchestra of Canada, Boris Brott | Brott Music festival, Hamilton
2011, May 19 | Ensemble Arkea, Dina Gilbert | Église Notre-Dame-des-Sept-Douleurs, Montreal
2011, May 9 | McGill Chamber Orchestra, Boris Brott | Hall Pollack, Montreal (premiere)