Various Artists | Augusta Read Thomas: Words of the Sea...

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Augusta Read Thomas: Words of the Sea...

by Various Artists

A particular dimension of human experience is at once the rich imagery of the orchestral score. -- International Record Review, October 2004
Genre: Classical: Contemporary
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  Song Share Time Download
1. Carillon Sky
Chicago Musicnow Ensemble, Oliver Knussen & Baird Dodge
8:22 $1.99
2. Words of the Sea...
Chicago Symphony Orchestra & Pierre Boulez
3:38 $0.99
3. The Ever-Hooded, Tragic-Gestured Sea...
Chicago Symphony Orchestra & Pierre Boulez
4:13 $0.99
4. Beyond the Genius of the Sea...
Chicago Symphony Orchestra & Pierre Boulez
2:53 $0.99
5. Mountainous Atmospheres of Sky and Sea... (Homage to Debussy)
Chicago Symphony Orchestra & Pierre Boulez
6:11 $0.99
6. In My Sky At Twilight: I. Deeper Than All Roses
Chicago Musicnow Ensemble, Christine Brandes & Pierre Boulez
10:08 $1.99
7. In My Sky At Twilight: II. Lament
Chicago Musicnow Ensemble, Pierre Boulez & Christine Brandes
8:26 $1.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
"… positively voluptuous settings of lines taken from many poetic sources illustrating the endurance of love." -- Evening Standard, January 2004

"This is a disc admirers of Thomas' bold, coruscating, colorful music will want to snap up while they can." -- Chicago Tribune, September 19, 2004

"My favorite moment in any piece of music is that of maximum risk and striving. Whether the venture is tiny or large, loud or soft, fragile or string, passionate, erratic, or eccentric - the moment of exquisite humanity and raw soul! All art that I cherish has elements of order, mystery, love, recklessness, and desperation. For me, music must be alive and jump off hte page and out of the instrument as if something big is at stake." -Augusta Read Thomas

Notes by the Composer

"Carillon Sky" is dedicated with admiration and gratitude to Oliver Knussen, Baird Dodge, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

The title "Carillon Sky" refers to a fantasized image that stimulated me to compose this music — that of a sky full of very soft tinkling and flickering bells, as well as very clamorous pealing, ringing, resonant bells, through which one floats. As if a Cathedral's Bell Tower becomes a metaphor for natures ever changing landscape and the violin soloist is a distinctive bird soaring, interacting, circling and swirling in the resonance. The original working title for this composition was Birds and Bells, since there are many bird-like and bell sounds; but Carillon Sky seemed a more abstract and poetic title upon reflection.

The idea was to try to compose a mini violin concert, but one that is in fact a "whole piece" — all packed into less than 7 minutes. This is like a miniature etching.

The solo violin part is marked with this performance indication: "Passionate and rubato; like a jazz improvisation. Accentuate the variety of characters." Nine bars before the end of the work, there is an option for the soloist to compose and play a short (30 second) cadenza in the style and language of the composition. Trust for the skills and taste of the original soloist, Mr. Baird Dodge, inspired Augusta to allow this option, which recalls the great, deep-rooted tradition of players making cadenzas in concerti.

Made up of several phrases, some of which end on fermatas, the works characters include: majestic, playful, elegant, resonant, spirited, calmly floating, bold, with repose, resolute and graceful. The form is slightly unusual in that the phrases are of asymmetrical length. As if a "group of improvisers" takes the materials a little further "out" or "back in" (in the jazz sense of those words) with each successive phrase. The piece accumulates — rather than being in one of the standard forms, such as ABA form, or rondo form. The form is the best reaction to the objects calling it into being.

Great care was given to the selection of pitches and to the creation of the harmonic fields in this work. I LOVE harmony; and think of my harmonies (simple or rich) as a moving target within a moving target. It was my intention to bring out much color from the 14-member ensemble.

In the soloist's part, as well as in the ensemble, there are imbedded, in any phrase, other sub-phrases. A kind imbedded-counterpoint emerges with two or three simultaneous lines. For instance, some of the music is made up of long notes and some of short figurations (trills and arabesques) and it is the connection of the two that I find interesting. I like to "write out" the trills because I hear them to have more than 2 notes, to be sporadic in rhythm, and thus, not to be just a simple trill. A highly nuanced figure, with a particular shape and inner life is more interesting to my ears. I use many grace notes. Another example of the imbedded counterpoints comes from the fact that the violin has many different colors, especially from range to range. The lowest register is rich, dark and haunting, while the very top range is trumpet-like, brilliant and shimmering. Springing back and forth between different registers, and with contrasting dynamics, gives the sensation that more than one voice is in play and that somehow the truth of the piece is in the crossways between the various intersections.

While the music was very carefully made, and is highly nuanced, and is a "serious" piece of music, it should sound free, spontaneous, resonant, jazzy, playful and alive.

"...Words of the Sea..." was commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, while Shulamit Ran was the Composer-in-Residence, by the Ernst and Young Emerging Composers Fund. The premiere took place by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Pierre Boulez conducting, in Orchestra Hall on December 12, 1996. "...Words of the Sea..." is dedicated with admiration and gratitude to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and to Pierre Boulez.

...Words of the Sea...
Wallace Stevens: The Idea of Order in Key West

She sang beyond the genius of the sea.
The water never formed to mind or voice,
Like a body wholly body, fluttering
Its empty sleeves; and yet its mimic motion
Made constant cry, caused constantly a cry,
That was not ours although we understood,
Inhuman, of the veritable ocean.

The sea was not a mask. No more was she.
The song and water were not medleyed sound
Even if what she sang was what she heard.
Since what she sang was uttered word by word.
It may be that in all her phrases stirred
The grinding water and the gasping wind;
But it was she and not the sea we heard.

For she was the maker of the song she sang.
The ever-hooded, tragic-gestured sea
Was merely a place by which she walked to sing.
Whose spirit is this? we said, because we knew
It was the spirit that we sought and knew
That we should ask this often as she sang.

If it was only the dark voice of the sea
That rose, or even colored by many waves;
If it was only the outer voice of sky
And cloud, of the sunken coral water-walled,
However clear, it would have been deep air,
The heaving speech of air, a summer sound
Repeated in a summer without end
And sound alone. But it was more than that,
More even than her voice, and ours, among
The meaningless plungings of water and the wind,
Theatrical distances, bronze shadows heaped
On high horizons, mountainous atmospheres
Of sky and sea.
It was her voice that made
The sky acutest at its vanishing.
She measured to the hour its solitude.
She was the single artificer of the world
In which she sang. And when she sang, the sea,
Whatever self it had, became the self
That was her song, for she was the maker. Then we,
As we beheld her striding there alone,
Knew that there never was a world for her
Except the one she sang and, singing, made.

Ramon Fernandez, tell me, if you know,
Why, when the singing ended and we turned
Toward the town, tell why the glassy lights,
The lights in the fishing boats at anchor there,
As night descended, tilting in the air,
Mastered the night and portioned out the sea,
Fixing emblazoned zones and fiery poles,
Arranging, deepening, enchanting night.

Oh! Blessed rage for order, pale Ramon,
The maker's rage to order words of the sea,
Words of the fragrant portals, dimly-starred,
And of ourselves and of our origins,
In ghostlier demarcations, keener sounds.

"In My Sky at Twilight" is dedicated with admiration and gratitude to Pierre Boulez, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Christine Brandes, and William G. Simpson.

Pablo Neruda's poem, In My Sky at Twilight (translated by W.S. Merwin) was the starting point of my research for texts to include in this composition. Of great concern to me was the sound of the words, which I wanted to be musical, graceful, and resonant.

You are taken in the net of my music, my love,
And my nets of music are wide as the sky.
My soul is born on the shore of your eyes of mourning.
In your eyes of mourning the land of dreams begins.

The music, which emerges in two large sections (Deeper than all Roses and Lament) can be heard as suggestive of a fantastic dream. There is an orchestral interlude separating the two parts. The words from Christina Rossetti's beautiful poem Echo, "Come back to me in dreams, that I may give Pulse for pulse, breath for breath: Speak low, lean low, As long ago, my love, how long ago," commence the Lament and set the stage for the entire second movement, which ends with quiet resolve.

The two opening texts, "Ablaze with desire," and "'O lyric love, half angel and half bird And all a wonder and a wild desire," establish the contrasting nature of the music: at time blazing, at times lyric. The music is fiery, colorful, elegant and bold; then, on a dime, it transforms into a tender, gentle and smooth sound world.

I am a firm believer that form must be the best reaction to the objects calling it into being. One cannot stuff a piece into an ABA form, like putting a square peg in a round hole. The aura and quality of the musical materials inspire the music into its asymmetrical form, however the music always reveals my ear's concern for contrasting colors and a detailed control over the flow, flux, proportion, and trajectory of the sounds.

I compose music that at times seems improvisatory and improvise music that at times seems composed. Hopefully the result is an "alive" "ardent" sound world. Nuance is essence for me. My scores are always highly detailed. The entire piece is harmonically rooted, although great attention is given to motive, counterpoint, and color. I write music intuitively, but always with my brain turned on. One of my main artistic credos has for a long time been to do with examining small musical objects (a chord, a motive, a rhythm, a color, etc.) and exploring them from every possible perspective. The different perspectives reveal new musical elements, which I then transform and which in turn become the musical development. Thus my works take on a kind of organic, circular, self-referential quality, while at the same time, they clearly progress forward.

Voice, bell, sun, spirit, prayer, stars, ceremony, sky, ritual are themes which have run through my music for years. I think of my music as lyricism under pressure.

Augusta Read Thomas (born in 1964 in Glen Cove, New York) was the Mead Composer-in-Residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1997 through 2006. In 2007, her ASTRAL CANTICLE was one of the two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in Music. Thomas has also been on the Board of Directors of the American Music Center since 2000, as well as on the boards and advisory boards of several chamber music groups. She was elected Chair of the Board of the American Music Center, a volunteer position that ran from 2005 to 2008.

Ms. Thomas studied composition with Oliver Knussen at Tanglewood (1986, 1987, 1989), Jacob Druckman at Yale University (1988), with Alan Stout and Bill Karlins at Northwestern University (1983-1987), and at the Royal Academy of Music in London (1989). She was a Junior Fellow in the Society of Fellows at Harvard University (1991-94) and a Bunting Fellow at Radcliffe College (1990-91) — which is now The Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University — and taught composition at Tanglewood during the summers of 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010.

Thomas' orchestral works have been performed by the Berlin Philharmonic, the New York Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Boston Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra, the National Symphony, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Residentie Orkest of The Hague, the Dallas Symphony, the Rotterdam Philharmonic, the Minnesota Orchestra, the New Jersey Symphony, the Seattle Symphony, the Louisville Orchestra, the Pittsburgh Symphony, ORF-Vienna (Austrian Radio Orchestra), Bochumer Symphoniker, the Fort Worth Symphony, the New York Chamber Symphony, the Cleveland Chamber Symphony, the Washington Choral Arts Society, Soli Deo Gloria, the American Composers Orchestra, the Virtuosi Players, the Marin Symphony, the Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra, the Berkshire Symphony, the Eastman Philharmonia, the Moscow Conservatory Orchestra, the Syracuse Youth Orchestra, the Columbus (Georgia) Symphony, the San Francisco Women's Philharmonic, Boston Civic Orchestra, the Long Beach Symphony, the New York Youth Symphony, the Concord Symphony, the Memphis Symphony, Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphony Orchestras, Northwestern University Symphony Orchestra (with Gerardo Ribeiro, soloist,), Chamber Orchestra of the South Bay, and the Virtuosi Orchestra.

Chamber music works have been performed by the Aspen Music Festival, the Tanglewood Music Festival, Chanticleer, Caramoor Music Festival, Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, the Eroica Trio, the Stony Brook Contemporary Music Ensemble, the San Francisco Contemporary Chamber Players, the Network for New Music, the Contemporary Chamber Players at the University of Illinois, the Indiana State University Contemporary Ensemble, the Green Umbrella Series, the Syracuse Society for New Music, the Fischer Duo, Heinrich Schiff, Catherine Tait, the Kapell Trio, the Debussy Trio, The Wellesley Composers Conference at the Miller Theater in NY, Trio West, The Lydian String Quartet, Eastman Brass, Jamal Rossi, Laurel Ann Maurer, the Lions Gate Trio, the Boston Symphony Chamber Players, John Marcellus, Scott Kluksdahl, Judy Siebert, Laura Frautschi, Bonita Boyd, Nicholas Goluses, the Core Ensemble, the Mendelssohn String Quartet, as well as individual soloists and various university ensembles.



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