Various Artists | Augusta Read Thomas:  Prairie Sketches

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Augusta Read Thomas: Prairie Sketches

by Various Artists

Thomas' zest for putting together new sounds that reflect her rapturous delight in music comes through in.. "Prairie Sketches". Winds, strings and harp build rich, resonant chords...bathed by the brilliance of the solo soprano lines. -John von Rhein
Genre: Classical: Contemporary
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
1. Rumi Settings: Rumi I
Stefan Hersh & Julian Hersh
3:34 $0.99
2. Rumi Settings: Rumi II
Stefan Hersh & Julian Hersh
2:54 $0.99
3. Rumi Settings: Rumi III
Stefan Hersh & Julian Hersh
2:41 $0.99
4. Rumi Settings: Rumi IV
Stefan Hersh & Julian Hersh
2:17 $0.99
5. Piano Etudes: I. Orbital Beacons
Amy Briggs Dissanayake
4:10 $0.99
6. Piano Etudes: II. Fire Waltz
Amy Briggs Dissanayake
2:03 $0.99
7. Incantation
Stefan Hersh
5:36 $0.99
8. Bubble: Rainbow (Spirit Level)
Callisto Ensemble, Tony Arnold & Cliff Colnot
5:49 $0.99
9. Bells Ring Summer
Julian Hersh
4:23 $0.99
10. Piano Etudes: III. Cathedral Waterfall
Amy Briggs Dissanayake
3:02 $0.99
11. Piano Etudes: IV. On Twilight
Amy Briggs Dissanayake
2:36 $0.99
12. Pulsar
Robert Waters
5:06 $0.99
13. Piano Etudes: V. Rain At Funeral
Amy Briggs Dissanayake
3:00 $0.99
14. Piano Etudes: VI. Twittering Machines
Amy Briggs Dissanayake
2:11 $0.99
15. Chant
Amy Briggs Dissanayake & Julian Hersh
11:56 $1.99
16. Prairie Sketches I
Callisto Ensemble, Tony Arnold & Cliff Colnot
12:02 $1.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
Notes by the composer

By some inward urgency I am not really alive unless I am creating,
To be a composer is a calling, not a profession.

My favorite moment in any piece of music is the moment of maximum risk and striving, Whether the venture is tiny or large, loud or soft, fragile or strong, passionate, erratic, or eccentric...! This is the moment of exquisite humanity and raw soul. When I read this beautiful poem by Rumi, written 800 years ago, all of it but especially the last 3 lines,

Stop the words now.
Open the window in the center of your chest
and let the spirits fly in and out.

made me feel deeply compelled to recreate it as a song without words, trying to capture its intensely personal, fiery, honest meaning.

Where Everything is Music by Jalaluddin Rumi
Translated Coleman Barks

Movement I
Don't worry aobut saving these songs!
And if one of our instruments breaks,
it doesn't matter.

We have fallen into the place
where everything is music.

Movement II
The strumming and the flute notes
rise into the atmosphere,
and even if the whole world's harp
should burn up, there will still be
hidden instruments playing.

So the candle flickers and goes out.
We have a piece of flint, and a spark.

Movement III
This singing art is sea foam.
The graceful movements come from a pearl
somewhere in the ocean floor.

Poems reach up like spindrift and the edge
of driftwood along the beach, wanting!

They derive
from a slow and powerful root
that we can't see.

Movement IV
Stop the words now.
Open the window in the center of your chest
and let the spirits fly in and out.

Composed in pairs, the "Piano Etudes" create drastically different sonic effects for each using musical material identical to both, like a photograph and its negative.
I. "Orbital Beacons" is about rotating harmonies and glow. A counterpoint of very loud and very soft notes begins with more soft notes than loud ones. By the end of the piece, this has been reversed. It strives for beauty of resonance, echo decay and luminosity.
II. "Fire Waltz" is a variation on Etude No. 1. Although it is easy to hear the perfumes of jazz in all my music, here is a work where the scents are more pungent.
III. "Cathedral Waterfall" is a slow unfolding of the series of rich chords of an extended jazz harmony idiom. One might imagine a huge, dramatic cathedral carillon where many bells are simultaneously being rung at once, making beautiful complex chords that hang in the air. At the same time, one lone bell ringer stands out of synchronization with the tutti chords.
IV. "On Twilight" is three minutes of high energy. Three distinct layers crosscut one another in unexpected, edgy, hiccup-like fits and starts. Yet, there is always the central "on twilight" layer flickering along, like the sun beaming, glowing, bursting, and then setting slowly into twilight.
V. "Rain at Funeral" is an impressionistic miniature funeral march, which requires very subtle shadings in quet dynamics as well as in timbre and reverberation. It uses the exact same chords as Etude No. VI but in a very intricate, delicate, private way, in contrast to the bravura flair of its surrounding etudes, Nos. IV and VI.
VI. "Twittering Machines" was composed in homage to David Rakowski and it responds to Rakowski's first etude, "E-Machines", in which single notes are repeated very quickly. My etude has repeated chords, which delineate a certain specific bandwidth of pitch. Florid arabesques, which cover the entire range of the piano, are set in relief against the "machine-like" harmonies.

"Incantation" for solo violin is one of the earliest works that I have not withdrawn from my catalogue. It also represents an early snapshot into my love for string instruments - the violin in particular. "Incantation" attempts to sing out, with beauty and grace, always with a richness and elegance. The work falls loosely into ABA form, ending as it were, on a question, with a major seventh hanging in the air, unresolved.

"Pulsar" for solo violin, commissioned by the British Broadcasting Corporation, jointly with the Royal Philharmonic Society, was composed for and premiered by Ilya Gringolts. It is part of my process to examine small musical objects (a chord, a motive, a rhythm, a color) and explore them from many perspectives. These explorations reveal new potentials, which propel the musical discourse. Thus the music takes on an organic, circular, self-referential character, which, at the same time, has a forward progression.

"Bubble Rainbow - (Spirit Level)" was composed with affection and admiration for Elliott Carter on his 95th birthday at the request of the Ensemble Sopreso who premiered the piece in November 2003 in New York City.
"Sonnet" by Elizabeth Bishop

Caught -- the bubble
in the spirit level,
a creature divided;
and the compass needle
wobbling and wavering,
Freed -- the broken
thermometer's mercury
running away;
and the rainbow-bird
from the narrow bevel
of the empty mirror,
flying wherever
it feels like, gay!

"Delight is as the flight" by Emily Dickinson

Delight is as the flight --
Or in the Ratio of it,
As the Schools would say --
The Rainbow's way --
A Skein
Flung colored, after Rain,
Would suit as bright,
Except that flight
Were Aliment --
"If it would last"
I asked the East,
When that Bent Stripe
Struck up my childish
Firmament --
And I, for glee,
Took Rainbows, as the common way,
And empty Skies
The Eccentricity --

And so with Lives --
And so with Butterflies --
Seen magic -- through the fright
That they will cheat the sight --
And Dower latitudes far on --
Some sudden morn --
Our portion -- in the fashion --
Done --

"Bells Ring Summer" was commissioned by Joan and Irwin Jacobs for the La Jolla Chamber Music Society for SummerFest 2000. Dedicated with admiration and gratitude to cellist David Finckel, this work is a short fanfare for solo cello that was made with David's powerful, musical and exquisite sound in mind. The music starts with bold and relentless ringing tones, like a carillon. As it explores the vast color fields of the cello itself, little by little, the bells climb higher in register, while dramatic lower-register events interrupt their flow. Finally, like a fragile echo, the bells ring into silence.

"Chant" is dedicated to the Fischer Duo and was composed in 1989. In 2002, I revised the work, merging its materials into one movement. This virtuosic cello opening leads to the entry of the piano, and then, over a period of 2 or 3 minutes, the Duo goes through transformations that range from fiery, to lyrical, to expressive, to fervent, to intimate. The large colorful chords that permeate the piano part (echoes of Oliver Messiaen) turn into florid passages played in unison by the Duo. The episodes in this piece are diverse and distinct, though, in fleeting whispers or proclamations, there are many interconnections.

Suzann Zimmerman commissioned me to set her poem "Prairie Sketches I" for solo soprano, seven musicians, and for the Chicago Kinder Voices Children's Chorus, a chorus she conducts. The poem describes the Prairie at the time of "morning skies" and "dawn's glow" and traverses a 24-hour period. The percussionist plays only high pitched metallic percussion: 2 octaves of Crotales and 2 octaves of Temple Bells (Japanese Rin) and plays only in the section of the poem that deals with the night sky.

as night-watch
stars take up
canvassed formations. And
for a time all aglow
they pierce the black night sky
like diamonds on orchid velvet.

The score states, "when ever possible, this work should be played in a highly resonant concert hall, church, or a cathedral."

The work is dedicated to Suzann Zimmerman with admiration and gratitude.

"Prairie Sketches I" by Suzann Zimmerman

On a Kansas prairie
plain, green blades
stand tall and silent

My Soul,
breathe deep

awash in
silken sunlight
gazing toward
morning skies
in quiet splendor.
The stillness of
dawn's glow
spreads one timeless gaze.

My Soul,
breathe deep

As a gentle sway
moves across the great expanse,
grasses once still
are as a sea foam of waves
dashing against the shoreline
of a cornflower blue sky.

(The dance begins.)

Sounds of rustling
prairie current hold sway
in the waning daylight hours.

My Soul, breathe deep and drink the
near-silent fragrance.

As evening turns to dusk
splendid grasses
arrayed with wild flower patches
will rest, as night-watch
stars take up
canvassed formations. And
for a time all aglow,
they pierce the black night sky
like diamonds on orchid velvet.

Bathed in misty morning
air, they fade in
sunlight brilliance of morn
once again revealing
slender green blades
washed in daylight's
dawning mist.

Awaiting the Willow-wisp's song takes
up a ballet
of graceful movement,
as wind sweeps across land
that time has graced.

Performances as dazzling, musical and accurate as these by the Callisto Ensemble give me such delight, and I express my sincere gratitude for their recording of my music.

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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