The following notes accompany the August 4, 2018 After Dixeland concert.
Dust Devils is the journey of emotional swirls in my mind, sometimes calm, but more often than not, full of raw and intense energy. The opening starts quite forcefully and darts back and forth, culminating in a fiery pounding of the timpani that wanes and brings this section to mere silent breaths in the brass. A slow section ensues, filled with upward cascades of arpeggios that interrupt the ethereal atmosphere. An ominous, eerie string section follows, leading to a powerful chorale in the brass that overtakes the music and brings the 10-minute work to an emphatic close.
The Violin Concerto in D (D major-minor) was premiered by Sergiu Luca with Maestro Dennis Russell Davies and the Saarbrucken Radio Orchestra on the 3rd of June 1984; composing it took most of the previous year. Luca was an old friend; we had worked together since 1972, mostly on commissions for him, but also in chamber music performance from Schubert to Schoenberg, and it is always helpful as well as a pleasure to write for musicians one knows well. A few serious-music violinists show much interest in the jazz-fiddle tradition. I was delighted when Sergiu began to play with Joe Venuti, appearing with him several times in public (including a session at New York’s Michael’s Pub, during which my wife Joan Morris and I did a set with Joe’s trio–a wondrous experience for us!). Two Venuti-influenced works for Luca followed: the 1978 Second Sonata (during the writing of which Venuti died) and the present work.
The Concerto’s beginning movement is a fantasia in the Classical sense, in which the careful juxtaposing of various types of music is the paramount concern. The solemn 5/4 second movement is in memory of the great pianist Paul Jacobs, a close friend who died in 1982; the long Adagio line includes a ghostly discourse between the solo violinist and an off-stage D trumpet. This leads attacca to the Rondo-Finale, where the Venuti influence is most apparent. Several styles from popular music (notably ragtime and rhythm-and-blues) are alternated rondo-fashion, up to the soloist’s brilliant passagework (stretta) that ends the Concerto.
I love rain. I grew up in Boulder, Colorado, and my dad and I often watched summer afternoon thunderstorms from our front deck as they swept over town and cooled the day.
Rain feels like a transition-time, with the potential for newness after it envelops all it touches. I think of each piece I have written as a sonic snapshot of where and how I was at the time. The music of Rain On It is a re-imagining of melodies, harmonies, and textures from two pieces–a string quartet, and a work for orchestra–that I wrote within poignant transitional times in my past. Having recently emerged from another transitional period, I took musical materials from these pieces, re-wove, re-shaped, and transformed them into a newly-changed fleeting sonic moment: a simultaneity that conflates a past as it has passed and a future as it is yet to be. In this music, I freeze an instant of imagined rain, fully static, non-passing, and still. Yet I stretch and dwell within this moment to capture a mood, which celebrates the relentless intensity of time, our enraptured emotionality that is over in the blink of an eye, our strained and fumbling grip on time, churning, incessant, and ceaseless. After the rain, there is newness and joy.
Dad was a meteorologist; he loved weather. When it rains I am with him, and I love the weather, too.
Walkabout: Concerto for Orchestra is inspired by my travels in Perú, my mother’s homeland. Born in the States, I did not begin these fateful trips until my time as a graduate student at the University of Michigan where my teachers encouraged me to answer questions of identity that long persisted for me: What does it mean to be American-born yet with such a motley crew of forebears hailing from Lithuania, China, and Andean South America? For more than twenty years, I’ve been answering this question, with each piece raising yet more to address.
In four movements, Walkabout uses both musical and extra-musical influences. The first movement, Soliloquio Serrano, features our string principles prominently in an introspective yet lyrical “mountain soliloquy.” The second movement is lively and bold, a portrait of “huaracas,” the slingshot weapons favored by the soldiers employed during the 16th century in the dominant Inca empire. “Haillí,” the Quechua word for “prayer,” is our third movement and is both lyrical and passionate. The last movement, “Tarqueada” portrays, after a mysterious opening, one of my favorite scenes of Perú: a great parade of “tarka” flutists who can number up to a hundred at once. These musicians also blow whistles and beat a variety of different drums, creating a sonic effect of controlled chaos that never stops building.
—Gabriela Lena Frank