Wind Ensemble. (1986) 35′
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- “Deep River”
- Allegro molto
Program Note (2016)
Nearly thirty years have passed since the premiere of Symphony No. 2, the first of my seven symphonies for wind ensemble. In that time I have come to recognize that issues of transformation are at the heart of my work, initially my personal issues of loss, grief, and rage, then knowing that my own change is the start for some element of outward movement, for change in the world. This is a long, slow process, but it is the requirement of our time. The crux of Symphony No. 2 i s the river metaphor of the second movement: crossing over to the other side … death, yes, but also movement away from ego/self and toward compassion.
Everyone knows that we are living in a seriously dangerous time. For me, Symphony No. 2 was my first awareness in artistic terms that this is the case. Nearly sixty years ago African writer Chinua Achebe wrote the renowned novel, Things Fall Apart. Chronicling the destruction of one life he hit upon what we must do to regain our balance: return to our deepest inner sources for sustenance and direction; return to the tradition of the art community: people selected and set apart to dream for the community as a whole. If art is worth anything it is this: it brings us back to dream time and the inner voice. It lets the heart speak, giving us answers that we cannot reach in any other way. This is why we make music.
Program Note (1986)
Symphony No. 2 was commissioned by the Big Ten Band Directors Association in 1983. I was asked to write a major work for full band. The Symphony was given its premiere at the 1987 CBDNA Convention in Evanston, Illinois. The performing group was the combined Symphonic Band and Symphonic Wind Ensemble of Northwestern University under the direction of John P. Paynter.
The first movement is in sonata form. It travels with gathering force to a climax area halfway through, and then dissolves suddenly into a heated fantasia. A very simple restatement of the opening theme and a brief coda finish the movement. This music is deeply personal for me, dealing with issues of loss, resignation, and acceptance.
The second movement opens with an arrangement of “Deep River,” a traditional African-American melody. The words of the song read in part: “Deep River, my home is over Jordan. Deep River, Lord, I want to cross over to camp ground.” The composition of this movement involved for me two meaningful coincidences. The body of the movement was completed, and then I came across Deep River while working on another project. The song and my composition fit as if made for each other, so I brought the song into the Symphony. The last notes were put onto the score of this movement almost to the hour of the space shuttle Challenger disaster. The power of these coincidences was such that I have dedicated this music to the memory of the astronauts who lost their lives: Francis R. Scobee, Michael J. Smith, Judith A. Resnick, Ellison S. Onizuka, Gregory B. Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe.
The finale of this Symphony is once again in sonata form. There are three broad theme areas occupying more than a third of the movement, a development based primarily on themes one and three, a recapitulation (minus the third theme area) , and a brief coda. The underlying impulse of this movement is an exuberant, insistent outpouring of energy, demanding a high level of playing precision and physical endurance from the performers.