Adirondack Light was composed in spring, 1992, in response to a commission from the Glens Falls Symphony Orchestra in commemoration of the centennial of the Adirondack Park. It is scored for narrator and chamber orchestra and received its premiere October 18, 1992, in Queensbury NY. The text is adapted by the composer from a poem by Guggenheim award-winning poet, Jordan Smith – “A Lesson from the Hudson River School: Glens Falls, New York, 1848”.
The piece is in one continuous movement subdivided into several parts. Images of water dominate the first two sections. A fast-flowing millrace in the first section contrasts with the wide, serene, and sometimes treacherous Hudson River in the second. The third section recounts the extraordinary adventure of a Boston traveler who penetrates the dark, romantic aspects of the Adirondacks with startling consequences. The earlier light and water images return in the final section.
Adirondack Light contains “windows” into four Adirondack folksongs introduced to the composer by folklorists George and Vaughn Ward. When the piece begins the narrator is seated on stage. Towards the end of the orchestral introduction he rises, perhaps to his porch railing, perhaps to an inside windowsill. During the orchestral epilogue he returns to his seat. – HT
The first ideas for Anecdote came from the poem, “Anecdote of the Jar”, by Wallace Stevens. Stevens imagines a “jar…tall and of a port in air” placed “upon a hill”. He notices, “the wilderness rose up to it … no longer wild” and says, of the jar, “it took dominion everywhere”.
In Anecdote, the cello soloist “has dominion” in this slow, one-movement, work. It is as though the cello is the “port in air” and is surrounded and complemented by the various orchestral textures (especially those of the central string quartet).
Another meaning of “anecdote” also influences the composition. An anecdote is often a story shared, and shared again, in intimate circumstances. And so, the overall structure of Anecdote is that of an arch in which a personal story is told, and elaborated on, and retold. – HT
Anecdote was composed during the summer of 2000 in response to a commission from the Newark (DE) Symphony Orchestra. It was first performed December 10, 2000, in Loudis Hall (University of Delaware), by the Newark Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Roman Pawlowski, with cello soloist Ovidiu Marinescu.
The title, From Afar, most immediately refers to the composer's memory of the four months she spent studying Japanese music near Kyoto in Fall, 1990. Other senses of distance are found in the temporal distances of the few direct references to Japanese music (for example, to the ancient honkyoku for the Japanese vertical bamboo flute, the shakuhachi) and to near and distant spatial densities in the orchestra (echoings and shadowings).
The piece opens with a slow, meditative, introduction (andante declamato) which is dominated by a single line in the trumpets. It then divides into two large wave-shaped sections, each of which begins with propulsive rhythms in the percussion (energico). Each of the large sections is transformed at its climax, somewhat in the manner of the Japanese jo-ha-kyu aesthetic. The first climax dissolves into a lighter interlude (danza), while the second retrieves a previous woodwind-dominated solo line and presents it, ardente e cantabile, with all the warmth of the strings before echoes of the meditative opening return to close the piece.
In writing From Afar the composer's intent was not to transpose Japanese sonorities directly onto the orchestra, rather her concern was to contrast meditative time (as in the opening) with narrative time (as in the danza) and propulsive time (as in the energico sections). A second concern was to contrast more traditional Western orchestral sonorities with a single "landscaped" line inspired by the ancient instrumental traditions of Japan (including gagaku ). – HT
From Afar is in one movement, approximately twenty minutes long. The piece was commissioned by a consortium of orchestras consisting of the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra, Women's Philharmonic Orchestra, Augusta Symphony Orchestra, University of South Carolina Symphony Orchestra, Santa Fe Symphony Orchestra, and Columbus Pro Musica. Commissioning of From Afar was made possible by a grant from the Meet the Composer / Reader's Digest Commissioning Program in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Lila Wallace -- Reader's Digest Fund. The first performance was November 14 and 15, 1996, by the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Kirk Trevor.
Performed here by the Slovak Radio Orchestra, Kirk Trevor, conductor. (Audio is the beginning.)
The image of the title comes from a recorded statement by artist, Arnie Bittleman - "I found a feather while walking down a road. The feather, if you look closely, has a landscape, a cloudscape in it" (Cambridge, NY, 1970). The piece is in one continuous movement with three main sections -- cloudscape (fast, light, woodwind-dominated), landscape (slow, string-dominated), and mountain-scape (fast, rhythmic, brass and percussion to the fore). "Walking" passages (with hints of NY folksongs) link the sections. – HT
From the Feather to the Mountain was composed in 2004 in response to a commission from the Empire State Youth Orchestra to celebrate their 25th anniversary season. The premiere took place March 20, 2005 in the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall with the Empire State Youth Orchestra conducted by Helen Cha-Pyo.
Performed here by the Slovak Radio Orchestra, Kirk Trevor, conductor. (Audio is the beginning.)
The first ideas for Here, The Cliffs were inspired by a striking rock formation near my home in South Wales. Craig Cerrig-gleisiad is an ancient glacial basin, replete with rugged, steep walls, scree slopes, and a delicate mossy area beneath the cliff face. It seemed to me that the lone violinist in front of the orchestra was not unlike a lone traveler standing before the massiveness of such a rock formation.
As I worked, a stronger idea took shape: that of the way in which such ice-age cirques seem to possess the sky within the amphitheater of rocks. The image is sometimes one of brightness and fragility as sunlight is captured and reflected within the curve of the rock face; at other times, the image is one of mystery and great sadness, as low, dense mists curl downwards over the uppermost rim and earth merges with sky.
Here, The Cliffs is in one movement. The soloist enters beneath the high, bright sounds of the opening and leads into a light, fast, vivace. The central adagio is developed from the falling mist idea. When the vivace returns it is transformed at its conclusion by the powerful re-emergence of the mists. – HT
Here, The Cliffs was commissioned by Corine Brouwer Cook, violinist and the North Carolina Symphony, Winston-Salem Piedmont Triad Symphony, Canton Symphony, Western Piedmont Symphony and Salisbury Symphony Orchestras as part of the national series of works from the Meet The Composer/Arts endowment Commissioning Music/USA, with support from the Helen F. Whitaker Fund.
Performed here by Frantisek Novotny, violin with the Slovak Radio Orchestra, Kirk Trevor, conductor. (Audio is the beginning.)
High Rock Spring was commissioned by the Saratoga Springs Youth Orchestra. It is a love story with fanfare elements (commemorating the 10th anniversary of the orchestra, 2009) and echoes of an Adirondack folksong (The Maiden’s Lament as sung by Sara Cleveland). No longer flowing, High Rock Spring survives as a low, dry, dome-shaped rock close to the center of Saratoga Springs – the town it predates by hundreds of years.* The composition presents the idea of “rock” in low brass and double reeds and the idea of “water” in lyrical strings, harp, and mallet percussion. High Rock Spring celebrates the fleeting union of the rock and the water. – HT
IN THE FIRST, SPINNING PLACE (Concerto for Alto Saxophone & Wind Orchestra)
In The First, Spinning Place was composed during the summer months of 1999 for the North American Saxophone Alliance Biennial Conference in Tucson, Arizona, March 2000. Although the piece is in one continuous movement, it falls into three interlinked sections with a slow introduction. The concerto was inspired by the poem “Fern Hill” -- an exuberant poem about youth by Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas.
The first section, Vivace con gioja, is subtitled “Down the rivers of the windfall light”. It is a light, dancing movement which parallels Thomas’ words, “... as I was young and easy under the apple boughs”. The second section, Andante flessibile, contains echoes of Welsh hymnody and carries the subtitle “And the sabbath rang slowly / In the pebbles of the holy streams.” The subtitle of the third section also contains the title of the whole concerto, “So it must have been after the birth of the simple light / In the first, spinning place”. It is a fast, scherzando, finale where, after the cadenza, the soloist sets the whole orchestra spinning. – HT
In The First, Spinning Place was commissioned by the University of Arizona Symphony Orchestra and Music Director Jindong Cai, for the North American Saxophone Alliance Biennial Conference, hosted by Kelland Thomas. It was premiered in Crowder Hall, University of Arizona, on March 10, 2000, with Debra Richtmeyer, soloist and Jindong Cai, conductor.
Performed here by Debra Richtmeyer, alto saxophone, with the Slovak Radio Orchestra, Kirk Trevor, conductor. (Audio is the beginning.)
PSALM 104 (PRAISE, MY SOUL) (Chorus and Small Orchestra)
Small orchestra version of original organ accompaniment. An anthem whose trumpet fanfare and joyful character contributes to a festive feel. Singing Welsh translations are also provided in certain sections.
The word, reibo, appears in the titles of many solo pieces for the Japanese vertical bamboo flute – the shakuhachi. Rei means “bell” and bo means “yearning”, so a rough translation is “Yearning for the Bell”. The tone poem, Reibo, takes the idea of “bells” and applies it to the bells of journeying (opening section), the bells of prayer (slow middle section), and the bells of meditation (closing section). – HT
Composed in 2009-2010, Reibo was commissioned by the Community Women's Orchestra directed by Dr. Kathleen McGuire, for its 25th Anniversary Season, with funding provided by the Open Meadows Foundation and the San Francisco Foundation, Jacqueline Hoefer Fund. – HT
Dedication: Reibo is dedicated to intrepid conductor and women’s music advocate, Karla Lemon, 1954-2009.
Sarsen is in three movements, each inspired by a particular “standing stone” or “sarsen.” The first movement, “Adirondack,” suggests the powerful presence of a wind-swept erratic in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. The Bat Rock in the Garden of the Master of the Nets in Suzhou, China, inspired the second movement. The standing stone of the last movement, “Avebury,” is part of an avenue of such stones leading to the largest stone circle in Europe. It is a ritual stone set in a ceremonial landscape, quite different from the natural wilderness setting of the first movement and the stylized, formal garden of the second movement. Each of the movements nay be performed separately, although there are echoes of the first in the second and third; in particular, the brass fanfare which opens “Adirondack” returns at the conclusion of “Avebury.” – HT
Sarsen was composed during the autumn of 2001 in response to a joint commission from the Saratoga Springs Youth Orchestra and the St. Croix Valley Symphony Orchestra at the University of Wisconsin-River-Falls.
“Shakkei,” a term used in Japanese landscape design, means “borrowed scenery.” Two well-known examples of shakkei underlie the oboe concerto. The first movement, marked “slow and spacious”, is inspired by Mount Hiei as viewed from Shoden-ji, a temple with a dry landscape garden. The second movement, marked leggiero, is inspired by the hills of Arashiyama as viewed from Tenryu-ji, a temple with a lush stroll garden. In musical terms, the sparse landscape of the first movement is complemented by an “overgrown” second movement. In both movements the composer could not resist lightly “borrowing” from Debussy’s Nuages since the idea of borrowing was part of the identity of the piece and a cor anglais was at hand. – HT
Performed here by Virginia Shaw, oboe and the North/South Chamber Orchestra conducted by Max Lifchitz. (Audio is an excerpt from the 2nd Movement.)
That Jewel-Spirit was commissioned by Lick-Wilmerding High School to commemorate the life of former student Moe Christie Nakamura. Sacred Mount Haguro links the words of contemporary American poet Penny Harter and the Japanese haiku by Matsuo Bashô (tr. W. J. Higginson). Bashô's haiku was written at Mount Haguro as a memorial poem; Penny Harter wrote "At the Top of Mount Haguro, Japan" while she and her husband W. J. Higginson were part of an international party following the Dewa section of Bashô's "Narrow Road of the Interior." The connections between “Momo” (the nickname of the beloved student who was an accomplished singer in her own right), Japan, and the USA are many. – HT
In his short poem, “Boundaries”, R. S. Thomas writes, “Where does the town end / and the country begin? / Where is the high-water mark / between the grey tide and the green?’ These lines led the composer to recall the lichen-covered, low stone walls which crisscross the high mountain moorland behind her childhood home in Ferndale, Rhondda. In turn, the local image suggested the textural contrasts which underlie the piece as a whole – contrasts between fast, string-dominated passages (“moorland”) and resonant, brass-dominated passages (“stone boundaries”). The presence throughout the piece of bell-like sections is again inspired by the poem. When Thomas writes of farming within “the sounds of the bell / of the worshipping cathedral” he evokes a time when the mountain-top walls were monastic boundaries. – HT
The Grey Tide and The Green was commissioned by St. David’s Hall, Cardiff with financial assistance from the Arts Council of Wales and premiered 28 July 2001 for The Last Night of the Welsh Proms by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Owain Arwel Hughes.
The Open Field was commissioned by the Schenectady Symphony Orchestra with funds provided by the New York State Council on the Arts. The piece was premiered on 22 April 1990 by the Schenectady Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Charles Schneider. The commissioning body had asked for a piece, approximately ten minutes long, which featured the brass. I was already at work on the fanfare- like figures of the opening and closing sections when news came, first of the incredible, then of the terrible events in Tiananmen Square of June 1989. The freedom of mind which I had been celebrating in the opening of the piece seemed called into question and this questioning is reflected in the darker inner sections of the piece. When I first received this commission, I did not set out to write any kind of "documentary." In fact, the earliest "field" was from a poem by Robert Duncan (the first in his 1960 collection called The Opening of the Field, which begins "Often I am permitted to return to a meadow / as if it were a scene made-up by my mind, / that is not mine, but is a made place, ... "). However, I think it was inevitable that the piece became caught up in that unbelievable year which ultimately led to the breaking down of the Berlin Wall. It is for this reason, with deep respect, the piece is subtitled "in memoriam Tiananmen Square (June 1989)." – HT
Morlais Castle is a seemingly haphazard pile of rocks near the composer’s first home in Wales. At one point a protruding piece of wall is evident. The rhythmical placement of stones in the partial wall lies in contrast to the boulder-strewn surrounding landscape. The composition was inspired by this contrast and also the implied contrast between the hustle and bustle of the former castle and its present bleak appearance where the ruin is practically indistinguishable from the natural contours of the high moorland. The Walls of Morlais Castle (mixed trio) was composed in fall 1998 when the composer was teaching in Nanjing Normal University. – HT
It was transcribed for strings in 2009 and was premiered in Merkin Hall NY, March 8 2010, by the N/S Chamber Orchestra conducted by Max Lifchitz.
Toward Dusk is an arrangement by the composer of the last movement of Water’s Edge, a piano duet for advanced students commissioned by the 1993 New York State Music Teacher’s Association Conference. The "edge" of the original title refers to the upper surface of the water as it reflects or refracts light. During Toward Dusk echoes of the previous two movements ("Dawn Light" and "From the Riverbed") are heard as the light gradually fades from view. – HT
Toward Dusk received its first performance May 6 2001 in Saratoga Music Hall, Broadway, Saratoga Springs, NY, by the Saratoga Springs Youth Orchestra conducted by Lucy Joseph.
Performed here by the Slovak Radio Orchestra, Kirk Trevor, conductor. (Audio is the beginning.)
Water’s Edge is in three interlinked movements, each of which may be performed separately. The “edge” of the title refers to the upper surface of the water as it reflects or refracts light. In the first movement (Dawn Light), the light is held at the surface, while in the second movement (From the Riverbed), the light dances through the upper surface of the water to the riverbed below. During the final movement (Toward Dusk), echoes of the previous two movements are heard as the light fades from view. – HT
The work was originally composed as a piano duet for advanced students in response to a commission from the New York State Music Teachers’ Association. The first performance was given at the NYSMTA Conference, 30 October 1993, at SUNY Purchase, NY. The composer’s transcription for string orchestra was premiered the following year (30 August, 1994) by the Presteigne Festival Orchestra conducted by George Vass, in Presteigne, Wales. The US premiere took place in Schenectady NY, by the St. Cecelia Orchestra conducted by Peter Bay, 6 November, 1994.
Performed here by the North/South Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Max Lifchitz. (Audio excerpt is the beginning of Mvt. 2: From The Riverbed.)
With the Heather and Small Birds, a celebratory overture for chamber orchestra, takes its title from a translation of a poem by Welsh Bard, John Ceiriog Hughes (1833-1897) -- in Welsh, "efo'r grug a'r adar man" from Nant y Mynydd. The last stanza reads "Son of the mountain am I/ Far from home making my song/ But my heart is in the mountain/ With the heather and small birds." For the composer, the image is of the high plateau of central Wales, within walking distance of the coal-mining valley of her childhood. It is a place of freedom, ancientness, and song (songs of the valley, and song of the skylark). – HT
The piece was commissioned by the 1994 Cardiff Festival, with funds provided by the Welsh Arts Council. It was premiered, September 17, 1994, in Cardiff, Wales, by the European Women's Orchestra conducted by Odaline de la Martinez; it received its US premiere, March 1 1997, in San Francisco, California, with the Women’s Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Karla Lemon.