World premiere: June 1, 2019 Miller Theatre, Columbia University;
Orchestra of the League of Composers, Heather Buck, soprano, Louis Karchin, conductor
The orchestral version of Four Songs on Poems of Seamus Heaney was completed in 2019 for a concert of the 11th season of the Orchestra of the League of Composers. It is based on a chamber version of the songs, written in 2012 for three groups, Ensemble Périphérie in Iowa, Magnetic South in Charleston, South Carolina, and Ensemble mise-en in New York. The four poems are taken from several collections of the Nobel Prize-winning Irish poet, and I arranged them in an order that seemed to suggest an overarching musical shape. All are descriptive vignettes, emerging out of inner visions, or observations both large and small. The first poem, Lightenings iv, takes as its point of departure the roar of a crowd in an ancient coliseum with reverberations echoing throughout the amphitheater. The second, The Rain Stick, describes, in very accurate detail, a most intriguing percussion instrument (although the instrument’s appearance within the song is delayed until its final moments). The third poem, Lightenings i, evokes the image of a beggar in a doorway sparking thoughts of the frailty of the human condition. The final poem, Settings xxiv, is an exquisite panorama of a harbor shimmering in stillness. The duration of the cycle is approximately 12 minutes.