About this Recording
8.559678 - SCHWANTNER, J.: Percussion Concerto / Morning's Embrace / Chasing Light… (Lamb, Nashville Symphony, Guerrero)

Joseph Schwantner (b. 1943)
Chasing Light… • Morning’s Embrace • Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra


Known for his dramatic and unique style and known as a gifted orchestral colorist, Joseph Schwantner is one of the most prominent American composers today. He received his musical and academic training at the Chicago Conservatory and Northwestern University and has served on the faculties of The Juilliard School, Eastman School of Music and the Yale School of Music. Schwantner’s compositional career has been marked by many awards, grants and fellowships, including the Pulitzer Prize in 1979 for his orchestral composition Aftertones of Infinity and several GRAMMY® nominations. Among his many commissions is his Percussion Concerto, which was commissioned for the 150th anniversary season of the New York Philharmonic and is one of the most performed concert works of the past decade. Schwantner is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

In January 2007, the League of American Orchestras and Meet The Composer announced that Schwantner had been selected as the composer for the second cycle of the nation’s largest commissioning consortium of orchestras: Ford Made in America. Schwantner’s Chasing Light… received its world première with the Reno Chamber Orchestra in September 2008 and has been performed over sixty times by orchestras in all fifty states.

Other recent commissions include works for the 75th anniversary of the National Symphony Orchestra; eighth blackbird; Flute Force; a work for flute and piano to honor flutist Sam Baron’s memory; and a Concerto for Percussion Section, Timpani and Orchestra for the Percussive Arts Society 50th anniversary and the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.

Schwantner’s music is published exclusively by Schott Helicon Music Corporation and recorded on the Naxos, RCA Red Seal/BMG, Hyperion, Koch International Classics, EMI/Virgin, Sony, Delos, New World Records, Klavier and Innova labels.

Composer’s Notes

Chasing Light… for orchestra

One of the special pleasures of living in rural New Hampshire is experiencing the often brilliant and intense early morning sunrises, reminding one of Thoreau’s words, “Morning is when I am awake and there is a dawn in me” (Walden). Chasing Light…, like my earlier work Morning’s Embrace, also draws inspiration from the celebration of vibrant colors and light that penetrate the morning mist as it wafts through the trees in the high New England hills. Like a delicate dance, those images intersected with a brief original poem:

Chasing Light…

Beneath the sickle moon, sunrise ignites daybreak’s veil.

Calliope’s rainbowed song cradles heaven’s arc.

piercing shadowy pines, a kaleidoscope blooms

morning’s embrace confronts the dawn.

The work, approximately twenty minutes in duration, is scored for two flutes (second doubles on piccolo), two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, one trombone, piano (amplified), one percussion, timpani and strings. It proceeds from one movement to the next without pause. Each movement’s subtitle is associated with a pair of lines from the poem. Chasing Light… received its première performance Saturday, 20 September 2008, by the Reno Chamber Orchestra conducted by Music Director Theodore Kuchar in Nightingale Concert Hall, Reno Nevada.

Mvt. I: “Sunrise Ignites Daybreak’s Veil” (Con forza, feroce con bravura) opens with an introduction containing three forceful and diverse ideas presented by full orchestra: (1) a low rhythmic and percussive pedal point on “F” followed by (2) a three-note triplet figure in the brass overlaid by (3) a rapid swirling cascade of arch-like upper woodwind phrases cast in a stretto-like texture. These primary elements form the melodic, harmonic and rhythmic materials developed in the work. Following the introduction, the strings present a theme derived from the pedal point rhythmic gesture and the brass three-note figure, leading to an extended series of upward-thrusting six-note sonorities and a long increasing assertive line (first brass, then later strings and woodwinds) partitioned into two parts. The movement ends with a return to the introductory material and a sustained pitch on “G,” providing a link to the next movement.

Mvt. II: “Calliope’s Rainbowed Song” (lontano) The rapid arched woodwind phrases in the introduction to the first movement occur in a variety of divergent contexts throughout the work, not only as small-scale gestures but in larger, more extended designs. Cast in a major arch-like palindrome form, this movement begins softly, first with solo clarinet followed by a repeated piano sonority that forms the structure of a theme played by solo flute. Gradually, this theme builds to an exuberant midpoint, followed by sections that appear in reverse order, finally ending quietly and gently with solo clarinet and a high ethereal violin harmonic on “A” that carries over to the third movement.

Mvt. III: “A Kaleidoscope Blooms” (lacrimoso), a slow, expressive and elegiac movement for oboe (written for Andrea Lenz, principal oboe of the Reno Chamber Orchestra), opens with a low, dark repeated pedal played by piano, contrabass and tam-tam. Sudden rapid woodwind gestures contrast and frame a succession of gradually ascending oboe phrases that accumulate ever-greater urgency as the music approaches its maximum intensity at the end.

Mvt. IV: “Morning’s Embrace Confronts the Dawn” (lontano) The rapid and aggressive woodwind phrases in the first movement now emerge in delicate and shimmering string textures. These earlier elements prepare for a stately but urgent chorale theme that builds forcefully to the palindromic music of the second movement and the introductory materials of the first, then proceeds to a final climatic conclusion.

Chasing Light… is a Ford Made in America Commission. The largest commissioning consortium in the United States, involving some fifty-eight orchestras in all fifty States, Ford Made in America is a Partnership Program of the League of American Orchestras and Meet The Composer, generously funded by Ford Motor Company Fund, the National Endowment for the Arts with additional funding by The Aaron Copland Fund for Music, Francis Goelet Charitable Lead Trusts and The Amphion Foundation.

Morning’s Embrace for Orchestra

Morning’s Embrace for Orchestra was commissioned by the National Symphony Orchestra in celebration of its 75th season and supported in part by Frank and Geryl Pearl. The work received its world première on Thursday, 24 February 2006, under the direction of Music Director and Conductor Leonard Slatkin.

The score calls for piccolo, two flutes, two oboes, English horn, two clarinets, bass clarinet, two bassoons, contrabassoon, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, three percussion, amplified piano, amplified harp and strings. Duration: eighteen minutes.

The work draws its spirit and energy from the intensely vibrant early morning sunrises I experience living in rural New Hampshire. The powerful kaleidoscope of hue and color piercing the morning mist and trees provided potent imagery for my musical imagination. Like my earlier orchestral work A Sudden Rainbow (1986), the work is cast in a single continuous movement and is inspired from Nature. These two works share similar characteristics and may be viewed as companion pieces, with each employing an expanded ensemble that includes a wide variety of pitched and non-pitched percussion instruments along with amplified piano and harp.

Morning’s Embrace opens with an intense and darkly resonant orchestral pedal point initiated by muted piano, harp, tam-tam, double basses, cellos (pizzicati) and bass clarinet. This low sustained drone forms one of the primary elements used consistently throughout the score and is followed immediately by a rapidly arpeggiated six-note sonority presented forcefully by pitched percussion, piano and harp. These sharply etched and immediately contrasting ideas presented at the outset recur frequently in continually new and sonically varied timbral environments.

Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra

The Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra was commissioned by the Philharmonic-Symphony Society of New York for its 150th Anniversary, with support by the American Telephone and Telegraph Company.

The score calls for piccolo, two flutes, two oboes, English Horn, two clarinets, bass clarinet, two bassoons, contrabassoon, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, amplified piano, harp, three percussion, strings and solo percussion. The work received its première performance on Friday, 6 January 1995, in Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York, and was conducted by Leonard Slatkin.

As one who long has been fascinated by the timbral aspects of music and attracted to the richly varied sonoric and articulative resources available in percussion, I was delighted to accept an invitation to write a work for the Philharmonic’s principal percussionist, Christopher Lamb. The extensive array of highly diverse instruments that form a percussionist’s arsenal frequently demands wide-ranging instrumental skills and techniques. Within this daunting performance environment, Mr. Lamb’s astonishing virtuosity and compelling musicianship provided an endless wellspring of inspiration that helped shape and propel the flow of my musical ideas for the concerto.

Cast in a three-movement, arch-like design, the concerto opens with the soloist stationed near the other percussionists. A collaborative relationship develops between the soloist and his percussion colleagues in an expanded ensemble that also includes piano and harp. The soloist forcefully and propulsively articulates the primary musical materials with a battery of instruments that include three tom toms, a pair of timbaletas, a pair of bongos, amplified marimba, xylophone and a two-octave set of crotales. The marimba and drums are most prominently featured in this movement.

Throughout the second movement, “In Memoriam,” a slow, darkly hued elegy, the soloist is placed center stage while the other percussionists remain silent. The soloist employs a vibraphone (played with both mallets and a contra bass bow), a rack of nine almglocken (pitched Alpine herd bells), a high octave set of crotales (played with beaters and a bow), two triangles, two cymbals, a water gong, (a tam-tam lowered into a large kettle drum shell filled with water), a concert bass drum and a tenor drum. Two principal ideas appear: a pair of recurring, ringing sonorities played on the vibraphone and an insistent “heartbeat” motive articulated on the bass drum.

The second movement leads directly to the fast and rhythmic third movement, with the soloist improvising on a large beaded gourd called a shekere. While continuing to improvise, the soloist walks back to his initial performance position of the first movement. As in movement one, the amplified marimba is prominently featured once again, but here the soloist plays angular and strongly accented gestures in four-mallet block voicings. The movement’s final section, drawn from the drum motives of movement one, proceeds to a highly energized cadenza and conclusion.

The work is dedicated in fond memory to my friend, the American composer Stephen Albert. Our friendship spanned almost twenty years. He was a man of intensity and strong convictions who possessed an indefatigable spirit and a fiercely independent musical vision. I admired him immensely for his integrity and the breadth of his imagination. I hope he is listening…

Joseph Schwantner

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