Program notes for Golgotha:

            The spot on which Christ was crucified is called Golgotha, an Aramaic word meaning ‘the place of the skull.’  It may be that this name came about because the hill was shaped like a skull, or that there were remains (including bones and skulls) on this hill from previous executions.  Still a third explanation is that the place where Christ was crucified is also the resting place of the first man, Adam.  In artwork depicting the Crucifixion, one will often find a skull and crossbones at the foot of the cross, contrasting Adam and Christ (For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection from the dead.  For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ, shall all be made alive. —1 Corinthians 15:21-22).

            My work is not strictly a programmatic representation of the events surrounding the Crucifixion.  It is rather a meditation on different aspects of Christ’s journey for the sake of the lost.  The piece is cast in four sections, relating roughly as ABAB.  The first section reflects on the ancient mission of Christ.  Across the expanse of time, there is the accumulation of generations of rebellion against God.  This is the reason for Christ’s coming.  The opening section is dissonant and at times chaotic.  It begins with the percussion striking a tone cluster harshly.  Small melodic fragments are introduced, as well as a short-long rhythmic motive.  This motive will come to dominate the entire work.  There is no sense of pulse or beat, but rather timelessness.  In an extended passage for the percussion, a pulse comes into focus.  Three repeated chords in the strings grow louder and louder.  This section builds to a frenzy of activity, which is suddenly halted, with strings sustaining an F-sharp softly in extreme registers.

            The second section of the work is a lament.  The choice of F-sharp is no accident.  Borrowing an idea from Bach, the first part of this second section is loosely in F-sharp minor.  The key signature for F-sharp minor is three sharps.  In German, the word for cross and sharp is the same, thus there is a musical image of the three crosses at Golgotha (Christ was crucified with a thief on either side of Him).  Against the sustained strings echoes of the previous section are heard.  Distant horns give a mournful cry.  Melodic fragments from the opening form the basis of an oboe melody.  The melody gradually climbs, and builds to another climax, with a powerful tutti statement of the melody.  This is stopped suddenly, and the atmosphere of the lament returns in the strings alone.  The strings end this section in extreme ranges, with an augmented statement of the short-long rhythmic motive. 

            This sustained chord in the strings is interrupted with material from the opening of the work.  The third section is filled with aggression and dissonance.  It is the longest section of the work.  Choirs of instruments repeat chords using the short-long rhythmic motive against tumultuous percussion.  Dissonant brass counterpoint leads to a tutti section that sounds desperate.  This section ends with an orchestral scream of an eleven-note chord: “And Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost.” (Mark 15:37)

            The final section combines opening ideas with those of the lament.  The atmosphere is calm and profoundly sorrowful.  It is inspired by images of the empty cross and Christ being laid in the tomb.  The clarinet recalls the earlier oboe melody, and the distant horns are heard again.  There are moments of bittersweet harmonies; this is the sadness of Christ's death with the hope of the resurrection.  The work ends with an extended tertian chord with a root of F-sharp. 

            This work is the winner of the 2005 Northridge Prize for Orchestral Composition.  The world premiere of Golgotha took place on March 18th, 2005, at California State University at Northridge.  This work was funded in part by the Composer Assistance Program of the American Music Center.  The composer gratefully acknowledges this support.