About this Recording
8.559799 - ROUSE, C.: Seeing / Kabir Padavali (Trevigne, Weiss, Albany Symphony, Miller)

Christopher Rouse (b. 1949)
Seeing • Kabir Padavali


Christopher Rouse is one of America’s most prominent composers. Winner of the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for his Trombone Concerto and a 2002 GRAMMY® for his Concert de Gaudi, Rouse has created a body of work perhaps unequalled in its expressive intensity. The New York Times has called it “some of the most memorable music around.”

Born in Baltimore in 1949, Rouse developed an early interest in both classical and popular music. He graduated from the Oberlin Conservatory and Cornell University, numbering among his principal teachers George Crumb and Karel Husa. He taught composition at the Eastman School of Music for two decades and currently teaches composition at The Juilliard School.

His music has been played by every major orchestra in the U.S. and by numerous ensembles overseas, including the Berlin Philharmonic, the London and BBC Symphony Orchestras, and the Sydney, Singapore, and Toronto Symphonies. Recent highlights include the premieres of his Oboe Concerto by the Minnesota Orchestra (2009); his Symphony No. 3 by the St. Louis Symphony (2011); Heimdall’s Trumpet by the Chicago Symphony (2012); Supplica by the Pittsburgh Symphony (2014); and Odna Zhizn (2010), Prospero’s Rooms (2013), Thunderstuck and Symphony No. 4 (both 2014) by the New York Philharmonic. Soloists for whom he has composed works include Yo-Yo Ma, Emanuel Ax, Evelyn Glennie, Cho-Liang Lin, and Sharon Isbin.

Rouse was the Baltimore Symphony’s composer-in-residence from 1986 to 1989 and more recently was named the Marie-Josee Kravis composer-in-residence at the New York Philharmonic, serving in that capacity from 2012 until 2015.

Christopher Rouse is published by Boosey & Hawkes.

Reprinted by kind permission of Boosey & Hawkes.

Seeing (1998)

Seeing owes its nature to a series of seemingly disparate threads that came together in an almost serendipitous fashion. Commissioned for Emanuel Ax and the New York Philharmonic through funds generously provided by Lillian Barbash, Seeing was conceived from the start as something other than a traditional piano concerto. In early discussions with Emanuel Ax, I discovered that he had never publicly performed (and had no future plans to perform) the Piano Concerto of Robert Schumann, a work he deeply loved but which he felt, due to his extraordinary modesty, unable to do justice to. I immediately resolved to include snippets of the Schumann concerto in my score as something of a “private joke.”

The next step in the work’s evolution came as I searched for a title that would betoken the piece’s somewhat free form. In the summer of 1997, while browsing through discs in my collection of rock music, I came across an album by the San Francisco band Moby Grape, a record to which I had not listened for some years. As Moby Grape ’69 began to play, I perused the song titles on the jacket and was struck by the name of the final track, a song by one of the group’s guitarists, Skip Spence. The song was entitled Seeing, and I was struck by the combination of simplicity and vision symbolized by this title. I had the name for my work.

Some months later I was browsing in a bookstore and came across a book detailing the current activities of various figures in the rock music world of the 1960s. As I came upon the Moby Grape entry, I discovered that Skip Spence had for some time been institutionalized as irretrievably psychotic, and this led me to reflect further upon Robert Schumann’s own institutionalization for psychosis. These strands now came together and my conception for the composition took form. How do the mentally ill “see”—not in the purely ocular sense but rather in the psychological and spiritual sense? How do they interpret what they see? And how can a representation of these “images” be translated into sound?

The result is a piece in four connected sections (fast-slow- fast-slow) lasting approximately twenty-eight minutes in which the Schumann Concerto continually reasserts itself in a variety of guises, some easily identifiable and some distorted. Virtually all of the material in Seeing owes its genesis to the Schumann in some way, though often the metamorphoses of Schumann are so extreme as to be unrecognizable. The four sections of the work could be said to correspond in the most general way to the form of the standard concerto, though the large slow movement is placed last, after an impassioned allegro, a disembodied and disoriented adagio intermezzo, and an hallucinatory scherzo. It is important for the listener to realize that Seeing is not a narratively programmatic piece. There is no “protagonist”—real or imagined—and no series of events is depicted in the music. Instead, it was my plan to explore the notion of “sanity” via swings back and forth between extremes of consonance and dissonance, stability and instability. My intent was to compose a unified and coherent work about confusion. Seeing does not “take a stand” upon mental illness as a social cause; rather, I wished to concern myself with the tragic toll such afflictions can take upon individual persons and those who care for them.

Seeing is scored for an orchestra consisting of three flutes, three oboes (3rd doubling English horn), three clarinets (3rd doubling bass clarinet), three bassoons, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, celesta, timpani, percussion (three players), and strings. The battery consists of snare drum, bass drum, tenor drum, bongo, two brake drums, tam-tam, two suspended cymbals, Chinese cymbal, triangle, cowbell, guiro, slapstick, claves, cabasa, two wood blocks, rute, sandpaper blocks, maracas, and hammer.

Completed in Pittsford, New York on October 31, 1998, Seeing is dedicated to Emanuel Ax.

Kabir Padavali (1998)

Commissioned by the Minnesota Orchestra, Kabir Padavali (“Kabir Songbook”) was composed for soprano Dawn Upshaw. I completed it on January 12, 1998 at my home in Pittsford, New York.

The great Indian poet Kabir is believed to have lived between 1398 and 1448. I first encountered his poetry in the early 1970s when my study of North Indian classical music yielded numerous songs set to Kabir texts. At that time (1972), I composed a work for soprano and orchestra with the same title as this; however, it was never performed. I resolved then that at some time in the future I would have another “go” at these wonderful poems, and the Minnesota Orchestra commission happily provided me with the opportunity.

I started afresh and—working from English translations by Linda Hess and Rabindranath Tagore—selected six poems from scratch. I elected to set them in Hindi, a language that fortunately sounds more often than not reasonably similar to the way it looks, and I owe my deepest thanks to Linda Hess and Douglas Brooks for their help in preparing and providing me with transliterations from Hindi. As Kabir neither read nor wrote, his work has depended on centuries of oral tradition for its sustenance; this has naturally led to certain textual problems, and without the help of Ms. Hess and Mr. Brooks, I would have found it impossible to compose this work. Their insights into Kabir’s oeuvre and the world in which it was created was also of enormous value.

It was my goal to present a range of Kabir’s concerns as a religious poet. Because of its extraordinary beauty, his ecstatic poetry served as the source of the lion’s share of my material (songs nos. 1, 2, 6, and to some extent 5). However, Kabir’s humorous side can be discerned in his impish, allegorical text for no. 3, and no. 4 offers one of his sociological rants against the hypocrisy he found all around him. Unlike my 1972 score, this Kabir Padavali does not seek to provide a “musicologically correct” sound world as accompaniment to Kabir’s words. There are no specific ragas employed, nor is there an attempt to reproduce Hindu vocal styles in the piece. However, I have attempted—particularly near the beginning and end of this score—to evoke the North Indian sound world in a more general fashion through the use of drones and via several oboe solos, the oboe possessing a sound not dissimilar to that of the Indian shahnai. My use of an accordion also represents an effort to parallel the sound, to some extent, of the Indian harmonium.

The soprano soloist is joined by an orchestra made up of two flutes (2nd doubling piccolo), two oboes, two clarinets (parts in A), two bassoons, four horns (parts in F), two trumpets (parts in C), three trombones, tuba, celesta, accordion, harp, timpani, percussion (3 players), and strings. The percussion section must play bass drum, maracas, claves, slapstick, suspended cymbal, Chinese cymbal, Chinese opera gong, tam-tam, antique cymbals, glockenspiel, chimes, and xylophone. Offstage percussion instruments include another bass drum, another set of chimes, another glockenspiel, plus castanets and ratchet.

Kabir Padavali is dedicated to my son Adrian and lasts approximately twenty-eight minutes.

Christopher Rouse

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