Prayers for a Feverish Planet – Program Notes IV.

Ian Dicke • Natalie Draper • Darío Duarte • Robert Adámy Duisberg • Brian Field • Fabricio Gatta

Ian Dicke, United States                                             

White Parasol (2008)

White Parasol was written in reaction to a 2008 BBC news article about the major loss of shelf-ice in Canada’s High Arctic: 

“Loss of ice in the Arctic, and in particular the extensive sea-ice, has global implications. The ‘white parasol’ at the top of the planet reflects energy from the Sun straight back out into space, helping to cool the Earth. Further loss of Arctic ice will see radiation absorbed by darker seawater and snow-free land, potentially warming the Earth’s climate at an even faster rate than current observational data indicates.”

Ann adds: This is one of several pieces in a group about water and ice melting. 

Natalie Draper, United States                                     

Until there is nothing left (2018)

Until there is nothing left was written for pianist Lior Willinger as part of his commissioning project funded by the Presser Foundation. This piece is a meditative reflection on our destructive environmental tendencies, particularly those relating to deforestation. From the vast devastation of the Amazon rainforest to the more insidious nature of local urban sprawl, we remove trees and root systems without considering loss of life, flooding potential, and habitat sustainability. My hope is that, as global, national, and local communities, we can rally and prevent more destruction…that we can prevent a situation in which there is nothing left. Many thanks to Lior for the commission, and for the opportunity to write both for him and about the environment.

Ann adds: I had the pleasure of learning this piece first for the New Music Festival at the University of South Florida in Tampa. It was originally scheduled during the April 2020 festival, but like all other live performing arts events in the spring of 2020, it was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Eunmi Ko did a fantastic job organizing the festival for several virtual concerts the following academic year, and I performed it in a streaming concert on November 7, 2020.

Darío Duarte, Argentina                                             

Stop Deforestation! (2020)

One of the main causes of climate change is the deforestation of forests. Their resources are running out, leaving a devastated landscape. Many areas have lost their profuse vegetation and the desertification of these soils is progressively advancing. In the piece the metaphor is of a dialectic between humanity that makes indiscriminate and violent use of the forests, depleting their resources. The piece progresses from a greater amount of figuration to a lesser one, as occurs with the jungle that is progressively losing its extension on our planet. The work is a call to reflection on this complex problem.

Ann adds: This is one of the pieces I immediately fell in love with upon hearing it. I think it’s quite beautiful, and it also reminds me of Radiohead (a band I quite like).

Robert Adámy Duisberg, United States

What We Can Say (2020)

“One is trying to say everything
that can be said for the things one loves
while there is still time.”

– W. S. Merwin

Contrapuntal music has always afforded a contemplative refuge in its evocative intellectual and emotional forms. These preludes and fugues are essays in harmony and counterpoint, enlivening and genre’s formalism with expressive gestures.

The set includes four linked movements developing an emotional arc of transfiguration. Lines follow their own independent tonal implications into sharp clashes of tension and release. Through these crucibles of poignant polytonal dissonance, the music invites us to take hopeful steps into resolution.

The transformation moves us from grieving what is lost into gratitude for the fragile preciousness of all that is: a transcendent response in a time of collapse. W. S. Merwin’s poem “Thanks” – the source of some movements’ epigrams – engages this paradoxical transformation, as it sings of gratitude in the face of the darkest visions.

The first fugue predates the other pieces in this set by more than a decade. Merwin’s poetry has always called us toward salvation of the natural world. In the 1990s, the great poet laureate gave a reading on an island near my home. I had the honor of a conversation with him in which I impertinently asked his permission to set some of his text to music. To my surprise, he smiled warmly, saying, “That is simply between you and the poetry.” The result was a choral version of this fugue, in which the epigram of the ‘First Composer’ is sung as the fugue subject. Ten years later, at another reading in Seattle, I humbly presented that score to him, expressing doubt he’d remember his generous permission. Warmly again, fixing me with his penetrating eye contact, he said, “Of course I remember!” 

The first prelude delights in the world’s grace, nonetheless weaving into dark implications, and forecasts the fugue. The fugue subject is elegaic yet inviting in its rising fourths. Its climactic resolution is to an emphatic “Chord of Nature” in C major.

The interlude begins stretching time like breath itself. Its rhapsodic central section introduces a two-note motif, a simple rising major second. This hopeful step pirouettes from there into a yearning gesture. This motif comes into dominance as the second theme of the double fugue, resolving ultimately into a pure yet unstable consonance. We take a step. We do what we can: “with nobody listening we are saying thank you / … dark though it is.”

Ann adds: This lovely work borrows from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, while also expanding upon the traditional Prelude and Fugue format. It’s a wonderful work to include in 2022, the 300th anniversary of the publication of WTC Volume I.

Brian Field, United States                                          

FIRE (2020)

I composed FIRE, for piano solo, as a reflection on the forest fires raging across California and the American West on a recurring, and increasingly alarming basis. 

The work starts with a “spark,” that flickers and quickly spreads, growing more complicated. The fire begins to rage loudly, and across register, building to a climax which eventually becomes more controlled, as it burns itself out and dies. 

Ann adds: What I particularly enjoy about this piece is both the motoric, toccata-like nature, and the programmatic element—the listener can hear the spark that begins and the incendiary growth.

Fabricio Gatta, Argentina                                           

La Escondida

Composition made in a tango style, powerfully rhythmic in its presentation contrasting in various passages between melancholy and anxiety. Work inspired by the climate that is felt today in Argentine society.  

Ann adds: I really enjoy this up-tempo tango–there are no other pieces like it in the series, so it provides a great contrast in style, texture, and mood to many of the other works. It’s fun to play, but does indeed invoke both the melancholy and anxiety Gatta intends.