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2007, Revised 2010, 2021







7.5 minutes



February 18, 2012

Sioux City Symphony

Conducted by Ryan Haskins



“Rat Race” is a homage to the Hollywood soundtrack and the cartoons of “Tom and Jerry.” This high pursuit overture for orchestra pulls every trick of the trade for the action blockbuster or animated magical fantasy soundtrack. As the title suggests, the music is a game of cat and mouse, an orchestral chase and mouse hunt.


The opening gut punch, an explosion of screeching high strings and brass fanfare light the fuse to an orchestral fiasco. The sounds of pots and pans clanging and tumbling, flying saucers and broken teacups in a kitchen hijinks will introduce the rodent prey and feline predator. The sounds of growls in the horns and hissing in the percussion will bring the music to a momentary pause. The explosive first encounter leaves a wrecked landscape of an obliterated pantry, bent cutlery, overturned furniture and shattered porcelain. And so, the predator and prey begin their diabolic dance of hide and seek through the kitchen ruins.


Fragmented gestures of an ostinato figure in the strings offer a stealthy change of pace.There will be many close calls in this music, cliffhangers and “gotcha” moments that spell a rat’s imminent doom. Sudden razor-sharp outbursts of loud music will alternate with lighter delicate passages of the woodwinds. This is music of animatic espionage, of watching and waiting, hunting and escaping, and the orchestra will navigate a maze, skewed corridors of mixed meters and the zig-zag maneuvering of rhythmic syncopations. Repeated small gestures, motives, will build in layers as the dueling characters elevate their mayhem towards musical countertops and bookshelves. The quick 16th notes of the marimba and xylophone, then later the violins, will illustrate an eloquent evasion of claws, the escapism of small feet sprinting and jumping from sink to floor, under the refrigerator, through cupboards, then out the window, opening the hunting ground to the busy city streets.


The sounds and rhythms of metropolitan traffic and construction will offer a gauntlet of new sound obstacles, expanding the hunting grounds, but leveling the playing field. A duo with tuba and violin, then wind pairs will further speak to this battle of David and Goliath. Horns will herald what appears to be the killing claw blow, but the music will egress and the chase continues leading to huge brass chords and fast moving string 16th notes. In 3/2 time, the tempo slows to a exactly half speed, the layering of sustained chords with an undercurrent of ferocious speed will offer an in-camera zoom of a rat and cat suspended mid-air, falling towards yet another new excursion through the busy orchestral highways.


The overture ends in a breathtaking sprint towards a dairy liberty, but it is not to be for the rat. The bustling activity ceases, ensnarled within paws, squeaks sputter in the winds and a last Stravinsky-kissed screech in the strings yelps before the final blow of the claw descends, dinner is served. 


Given the inspiration, the life of the work has in someway serendipitously mimicked the nine-lives of a cat and the Hollywood studio practice of releasing movies to the home video market with a Director’s Cut, Final Cut, Ultimate Cut, Producer’s Cut, Unrated, Uncut, Never Seen Before, Expanded, Re-mastered and Special Editions, through the format wars of VHS, Laser Disc, DVD, HD-DVD, Blu-ray, 4K Ultra-HD and now streaming, the list goes on. These versions have offered audiences, for better or worse, a more pristine look at the film through the lens of present technology but above all, as a unique opportunity for re-vision by the director, often without the strictures and oversight of studio magnets for the theatrical release.


The work was first composed in 2007 at the University of Hawaiʻi for an orchestral reading with the Honolulu Symphony conducted by Joan Landry with the title “Dance Diabolic.” Further revisions were made for a second reading in 2008 conducted by Stuart Chafetz and retitled “Overture Le Chat et La Souris” (A Cat and Mouse Overture). Several more revisions would follow and in 2012, the Sioux City Symphony would give the official world premiere of the work. Conductor Ryan Haskins would request that the ending finale be extended by 10 to 12 or more bars and this is the ending of the current version. The performances of the work during the Sheraton Starlight Series offered a near decade retrospective and opportunity for remastering of the orchestration and inner sections, and so further revisions were made, Bon Appétit. © MTF


07/11/2021: Hawaiʻi Symphony Orchestra, Sarah Hicks (conductor); Honolulu, HI

07/10/2021: Hawaiʻi Symphony Orchestra, Sarah Hicks (conductor); Honolulu, HI

07/09/2021: Hawaiʻi Symphony Orchestra, Sarah Hicks (conductor); Honolulu, HI

02/18/2012: Sioux City Symphony, Ryan Haskins (conductor); Sioux City, IA

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