Adagio: Of Times and Seasons
Adagio: Of Times and Seasons is a slow movement for orchestra. It owes its inspiration to various iconic 20th-century symphonic adagios by composers like Samuel Barber, Aaron Copland, and Dmitri Shostakovich; and to the mildly syncopated, modal musical language found in both recent dramatic film scores and various American root musics. A strident opening theme is later answered with a more subdued one, and as both are developed they prove to be drawn from the same patterns. Instrumentation is straightforward, except that the Violins are divided into three groups and the Cellos into two.
The premiere of the piece was planned for a national composers' conference to be held in greater Los Angeles, but due to Covid-19 restrictions the event was cancelled. I am very grateful to the Janáček Philharmonic for their willingness to undertake this recording. — Lawrence Mumford
All Along moves through passages that are slow or quick, curious, eager, rejoicing, or patient. It includes short gestures that are shared among instruments, repeated and varied, and longer melodic lines, also colored by multiple instruments. The music is organized as five main sections, each concluding with a sustained chord (sometimes combined with a pause) and followed by a change in texture. This provides the outward shape of the piece. There's also an underlying feeling or character that persists through the changes, and the fact that it's there all along unifies the music — and gave the piece its title. — Kevin McCarter
A Kiss in the Dark
Intimacy is a word used too shallowly in normal speech. It means so much more in reality than any dictionary can give it credit for. Intimacy is the trust to let another person into the deepest recesses of your soul. It goes beyond the oxytocin given from the connection of touch; it’s in the relief in sharing a secret with a trusted source, the flood of emotions when letting down defenses, and the harmony of being able to look at someone and understand what they’re thinking without a single word spoken. These almost psychic connections paired with physical sensations complete my interpretation.
In writing this piece, I wanted to recreate this feeling that many people know but may not know how to express. To recreate the understanding that one can reach out in the dark and touch someone in love and trust. The awareness of one’s internal walls floating in weightless space. The feeling of gliding in the endless blue, with gold stars blushing fuchsia. Euphoria. — Samantha Sack
Bell and Drum Tower
In ancient days, the cities of China built imposing towers for bells and drums which they used for keeping time. Beijing still has its bell and drum towers today.
While composing this piece, I imagined the tones reverberating through the dusty air, the bells in the morning and the drums in the evening.
Bell and Drum Tower could be called a tone poem or fantasy: a narrative winding through different scenes and moods. The style is based on traditional Western music but is influenced by the clear, resonant harmonies and colorful patterns of Chinese music.
The piece begins with a timpani solo — the “drum” of the title — followed by a cello motif which suggests the mystery and ancient air of Beijing. This restless, yearning theme returns periodically, sandwiched between contrasting episodes. The other main musical idea is played by clangorous brass and chimes suggesting the massive bronze bells of the bell tower.
Interpolated episodes vary from rhythmic and festive to lyrical and atmospheric. Ostinato figures introduced by the piano, for instance, are overlaid with instrumental fragments suggesting festive street scenes. A more lyrical episode, reminiscent of a tragic Chinese love story, features an English horn solo. A section marked “Languid” is slower, suggesting a disjunction in time, or a message from the past. These ideas are woven into the main bell and drum themes as the piece gathers momentum.
The final section starts with a repeated xylophone figure (related to the opening timpani solo) and builds layer by layer, adding strings, percussion, winds, piano and brass until it reaches an energetic climax. — Alexis Alrich
3 Flights of the Condor
The Condor is a large bird native to the American continent. It is famous for its large wing span as well as for being able to fly to great heights - as high as 15,000 feet. In the latter part of the 20th century, the condor became extinct in the wild; but with a careful breeding program in captivity the wild condor population has been successfully restarted.
This piece of music evolved out of a considerable amount of mental visual imagery. The opening of the piece describes a desolate scene at the top of a high mountain. Initially, there is no sign of any life, until little fragments of movement reveal a young Condor bird nervously preparing itself to fly for the first time. The three flights, which are all depicted in this piece, are based on the same musical theme and they represent three different stages of life.
The first flight, which occurs when the bird is very young, is the bird’s first successful attempt at flying. While there is a sense of wonder and beauty within this flight, it is essentially a cautious one.
The second flight occurs when the bird has reached its full physical maturity, and so this flight is much more daring, majestic and adventurous. The third flight occurs towards the end of the bird’s life. This is the flight of wisdom, and as such it is a more introspective and spiritual flight borne out of a lifetime of experience. — Anthony Wilson
An exposed, often rocky element of a ridge, mountain, or peak not covered with ice or snow within an ice field or glacier.
Nunatak was written in 2019 during a road trip across the western U.S. with my mother and one year old daughter, a trip that took us from Santa Barbara, California to the Aspen Music Festival and School in Aspen CO. The original version was read by the Conducting Academy Orchestra during the festival, but underwent significant revisions over the following months and in preparation for this recording. Special thanks to my family for giving me the time to complete this project, and especially to my mother, Gaye Saxon, without whom the composition of this piece over long days on the road with a child in tow would have been nigh impossible.
Driving from Santa Barbara CA to Aspen, I was struck by the enormity of landscapes and landforms: the Mohave, the Colorado River, and the Rockies. As we traveled, my mind wandered north, to the glaciers of Alaska and Canada. I mourned the melting of the glaciers and what it means for human misfortune. It occurred to me then that the glaciers do not mourn, that, from the perspective of the mountains buried beneath, the earth is not being destroyed, merely changed. Future generations of humans may be irrevocably burdened by this change, but the mountains will persist, triumphant over us and our folly.
Blue ice melts, revealing landscapes beneath.
Mountains burst forth,
And break free from fields of ice.
Inhospitable winds whip snow to glittering flurries.
Forces too massive for us to comprehend, churning,
indifferent to human fears.
— Katherine Saxon
This Full Bowl of Roses, Part III
This Full Bowl of Roses, Part III is in the form of a fugue appropriate to the image of the roses in the bowl, as described so beautifully in the poem of the same name by Ranier Maria Rilke. The music is written in a rigorous form of just intonation, called Intonalism, created by William Copper. Every interval, melodic or harmonic, is perfectly tuneable, and easily hearable by the musicians who played the piece. The music starts very quietly, with the statement of the subject in the violoncello, with successive entries adding to the texture and the power of the music. The answer, as first heard in the viola, is modified in ways used by Bach, and others, to make a fugue more rounded, allowing the music to return tonally to its origin before moving again away. — William Copper
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