About this Recording
8.223457 - WELCHER: Haleakala / Prairie Light / Clarinet Concerto
English 

Dan Welcher (b

Dan Welcher (b. 1948)

Haleakalā: How Maui Snared the Sun (1991)

 

This tone poem with narration by Ann McCutchan was crafted as both a children's story and a piece of mature contemporary music, designed to appeal on many levels. The music, using three ancient Hawaiian chant-tunes, many authentic percussion instruments, and six Polynesian scales, is capable of standing alone, and in fact the work can be performed without narration.

 

The text is a highly evocative and poetic retelling of one of the most famous myths about the Polynesian demigod Maui, known as 'the trickster.' We meet Maui by reputation first with the recounting of two earlier legends, and then in the story of Haleakalā. Maui finds his mother weeping because the sun moves so quickly that "the kapa (tapa cloth) won't dry, and the kalo (taro) and sweet potatoes are withering." Maui is determined to fix this, and devises a plan to entrap the sun as it enters the chasm at Haleakalā, the sacred volcano on the island that now bears Maui's name. Once all sixteen legs (rays) of the sun have been snared in a vigorous battle; Maui extracts a promise from the sun to go more slowly for six months of the year, creating the winter and summer seasons.

 

The score is almost cinematic - it assigns motives to the various characters and follows the dramatic moods of the narration without ever resorting to the "stop-and-go" method commonly found in works with a narrator. In fact, the story proved so fruitful as musical inspiration that I was able to make use of formal devices to illustrate the action: for instance, Maui's actual snaring of the sixteen-legged sun is set as a quicksilver fugue, in which particular notes are "caught" and held by the brass.

 

The piece is set as a ritual ceremony. It opens with the blowing of a conch shell and immediately proceeds to a chant-tune played by horns and pahu drums. Following this "frame", the music follows forms suggested by the narration. Episodic sections describe Maui's earlier escapades, the sun's frantic flight over the islands (with evocative cluster-chords in the upper strings suggesting heat and blazing light), and the fantastic trip beneath the ocean in search of the magic elements needed to weave the nooses. Three related interludes called "Dreamscales" introduce the main sections: Maui's confrontation with his mother, the trip to Heleakala, and the morning following the battle with the sun. At the end of the story the opening chant returns, completing the ritual frame in a musical circle.

 

Haleakalā was premiered in September 1991. It was commissioned by the Honolulu Symphony as part of the Meet the Composer Orchestra Residency Program.

 

Hawaiian vocabulary:

 

Kalo: taro plant, from which poi is made.

Luna. "the boss"; person in charge.

Elemio: Be quick! Take a chance!

Hinahina: the rare Silversword plant, which grows only in Hawaii on the islands of Maui and Hawaii.

 

Prairie Light: Three Texas Watercolors of Georgia O'Keeffe (1985)

 

Prairie Light is based on three highly unusual watercolors that Georgia O'Keeffe painted during her year of teaching in Canyon, Texas in 1917. O'Keeffe is, of course, well-known for her expressionistic cow skulls and sensual flowers, but these three early works show anaïve, almost primitive sensitivity to light and shadow. I chose to place them in the order of sunrise, mid-day and night.

 

The work begins with Light Coming on the Plains, which follows O'Keeffe's visual imagery in broad washes of orchestral color. The painting shows a flat horizon line with outwardly expanding concentric ovals of blue light emerging from the center, just before sunrise. The music has a static bass line (the horizon), three extended phrases of a constantly growing melodic line, and a sense of expansion and increasing warmth as the sun becomes visible.

 

The second section, Canyon with Crows, is more solidly grounded. The painting shows the convolutions of the Palo Duro Canyon, with gently rolling green and red-brown hills. Above it, three childlike crows appear, almost pasted onto the sky. The music is bubbling, bouncing and effervescent - staccato chords of brass suggest hopping birds and animals, and the three crows are suggested in solo lines of clarinet, oboe and flute. As the light begins to fade, an extended passage for muted strings accompanies the farewell songs of two of the crows.

 

Starlight Night has a rather unorthodox (for O'Keeffe) mechanical quality. The stars are arranged in regular rows, and they are squares and rectangles instead of points of light. Otherwise, the painting shows the exact same vantage point as Light Coming on the Plains: the horizon, the oval sky, and the shape of the canyon rim. The music begins with a sweet nighttime flute solo, echoed by high violins. Midway through, the orchestra stops its singing and hovers, while a piano and a xylophone begin a somewhat startling, percussive mantra - the square stars, the regularity of the universe. Over this gamelan-inspired pattern, the orchestra grows until a climax is reached, with the nighttime melody combined with the sunrise melody of the first movement. A 24-hour cycle of light has been experienced, with the evolving colors of nature as seen from a single viewpoint.

 

Prairie Light was commissioned by the Sherman (Texas) Symphony in celebration of its 20th anniversary season. It was first performed by that orchestra, with the composer conducting, on March 1, 1986.

 

Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra (1989)

 

Premiered by the Honolulu Symphony in October 1989, this work was commissioned by Bil Jackson. I had known Bil both as a symphonic clarinetist and a jazz player, so the resulting work, while not a 'jazz concerto,' takes advantage of the checkered history of the clarinet. Cast in two lengthy movements and scored for a rather small orchestra, it is a sort of "uptown big brother" to my 1974 Flute Concerto.

 

The mostly serious first movement is a Fantasia. Beginning with odd-metered fanfares and flourishes, it gradually gives way to an elegiac theme in the high violins, and the clarinet fills in the pauses with the plunging arpeggios at which the instrument excels. Little by little the spectre of ragtime peeks around the corner, but never fully appears. The elegy theme gradually emerges from the dance music, and the orchestra swells back into prominence. The fanfares from the opening reappear, but in a 2/4 meter. The fanfare becomes a repetitive little machine over which the clarinet is allowed to sing two echo-phrases of the elegy before a quick and resolute cadence ends the movement quietly.

 

The second movement is entitled Blues and Toccata (on the name "Benny Goodman"). The first half is a slow 5/4 song with a repeated bass line as an ostinato. A solo trumpet joins the clarinet for some sweet, sad polyphony, and the mood is broken only slightly in a central section of lighter interplay with flute and woodwinds. The notes derived from the name of Benny Goodman form a chord that is quite blue in nature: B-flat, E, G, D and A, and by adding a transposed parallel group of five notes, a quite beautiful scale is constructed. The entire movement comes from these materials. The Toccata is another ground-bass ostinato, a jaunty, shifty pattern that is repeated ten times. In the middle of the movement, however, jazz gives way momentarily to a rather polite rock-'n'-roll episode, functioning as (dare I say it?) a contrasting central 'trio.' By the end, the orchestra has been pared down to the components of the jazz quartet: clarinet, vibraphone, bass and drums. A parody of the 'call and response' chorus from the 1940s brings the concerto to an amusing, rousing finish.

 

Dan Welcher

 

Dan Welcher

 

Dan Welcher has been Composer-in-Residence of the Honolulu Symphony since September 1990 as part of the Meet the Composer Orchestra Residencies program. His works have been played by more than thirty major orchestras including the Symphony Orchestras of Chicago and Dallas and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, and commissioned by outstanding ensembles such as the Cleveland Quartet and the American Brass Quintet. The Rochester, NY native earned degrees from the Eastman School of Music and the Manhattan School of Music. Beginning his career as Principal Bassoonist of the Louisville Orchestra in 1972, he has also taught on the faculties of the University of Louisville, the Eastman School of Music, and (since 1978) the University of Texas. Increasingly active as a conductor, he also served as assistant conductor of the Austin Symphony Orchestra from 1980 to 1990, and he has been a member of the Artist Faculty at the Aspen Music Festival since 1976.

 

Mr. Welcher's music is published by Theodore Presser Company.

 

Donald Johanos

 

Donald Johanos has been Music Director and Conductor of the Honolulu Symphony since 1979, establishing a reputation for high standards and musical excitement that has carried the Honolulu Symphony to new levels of growth and development. The Composer in Residence grant awarded to the Honolulu Symphony was directly attributed to his championing of contemporary works, citing him as "an extraordinary advocate for American music." The first place award given to the Symphony by ASCAP in 1991 also cited Maestro Johanos for "adventuresome programming of contemporary music."

 

In 1962 he was appointed music director and principal conductor of the Dallas

Symphony, and in 1970 he became associate conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony. His guest conducting credentials include the Mostly Mozart Festival in New York, Lisbon's Golden Festival, the Paris Opera and orchestras including Philadelphia, Boston, San Francisco, Chicago and the National Symphony. His international appearances have included Amsterdam, New Zealand, China, Hong Kong and Mexico. His recording of Glière's Symphony No. 3 in B Minor, Op. 42 with the Czecho-Slovak Radio Symphony (Bratislava) is also available on the Marco Polo label.

 

Richard Chamberlain

 

Richard Chamberlain, narrator of Haleakalā, appeared in the world premiere of this piece in September 1991. The distinguished actor is best known worldwide for his role as John Blackthorne in Shogun, the ten-hour mini-series based on James Clavell's bestselling novel. For that performance, Mr. Chamberlain received an Emmy Award nomination and a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor. He achieved similar success and awards with NBC's Wallenberg and in the lead role of Father Ralph de Bricassart in Colleen McCullough's The Thorn Birds.

 

In 1961 Mr. Chamberlain became a household name when he appeared in the title role of the TV series Dr. Kildare, a major hit that ran for five seasons. He continued with starring roles in The Three Musketeers, The Man in the Iron Mask, The Count of Monte Cristo, Centennial, and many other projects on screen and stage.

 

Bil Jackson

 

Bil Jackson, currently principal clarinet of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra and the Aspen Chamber Symphony, studied at the Interlochen Arts Academy and Northwestern University and has worked under Robert Marcellus and George Silfies. In 1976 he became the only player to win the International Clarinet Competition twice.

 

He has performed with the Charlotte Symphony, Honolulu Symphony, and Dallas Chamber orchestras. In addition to classical appearances, Mr. Jackson works with pianist Bill Douglas presenting concerts that offer an exciting format of classical and contemporary music. He is also on the faculties of the University of Northern Colorado and the Aspen Music Festival.

 

Ann McCutchan

 

Ann McCutchan is the author of Marcel Moyse: Voice of the Flute (Amadeus Press), a columnist with Gannett News Service, and former music critic for the Austin (TX) American-Statesman. She contributes regularly to national publications and has received various awards for her work, including a Distinguished Achievement Award from the Educational Press Association of America and a Vogelstein Foundation grant. Haleakalā is her second collaboration with composer Dan Welcher; in 1986 she wrote the poetic text for his Listen Up!, a narrated piece for woodwind quintet.

 

The Honolulu Symphony Society

 

The Honolulu Symphony Society was formed in 1900, one of only twelve symphonies in the United States and its territories. Its ongoing activities have only been interrupted once for a period of several months following the attack on Pearl Harbor. It maintains one of the largest youth education programs in the country, performing on all the islands of Hawaii for over 100,000 children annually.

 

Meet The Composer

 

The Meet The Composer Orchestra Residency Program, created by John Duffy, Director and President of Meet The Composer, was initiated in 1982 to foster the creation and performance of orchestral music by American composers. Through the program, composers are placed in residence with major symphony orchestras nationwide.

 

Resident composers write a major work to be premiered and recorded by the host orchestra, organize concerts of new music, review scores, and work with the music director in the programming of contemporary music. The Orchestra Residency Program is made possible with major grants from; The Rockefeller Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Hewlett Foundation, the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust, the Eleanor Naylor Dana Charitable Trust, the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund, and The Pew Charitable Trusts.


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