Prayers for a Feverish Planet – Program Notes IX.

D. Alexander Porter • Alessio Rossato • Anna Rubin • Minato Sakamoto • Paul SanGregory

D. Alexander Porter, United States                                                                     

Cementscapes (2021)

III. Filthy Rotten

Cementscapes is a set of three short pieces for solo piano. Each of the three pieces is loosely inspired by the aesthetics of an industrial cityscape, from the Dirty Machines of oil refineries, to the Filthy Rotten alleyways of the city center.

Ann adds: In the spring of 2021, my friend and colleague Luke Dahn at the University of Utah asked if I would work with some of his composition students, workshopping piano pieces and recording them for their final concert. The third movement of Alex Porter’s Cementscapes was especially challenging (think: Ligeti etude), but I thought it would pair well with Frank Horvat’s Heat Island – the industrialization from our over-cement-ification of the landscape contributing to climate change generally and heat islands more specifically.

Alessio Rossato, Italy                                                 

Å5577 6300 (2011)

Å5577 – 6300 is the unit of measurement that Swedish physicist Anders Jonas Ångström used to quantify the aurora borealis spectrum, phenomenon which marks the passage between two states: light and dark. Visual phenomenon of aurora borealis is transposed musically in this piece, across the passage between two processes, acoustic and digital. 

Ann adds: I loved hearing this piece on first listen. Though not specifically about climate change, this work hints at effects from these changes – light pollution alters how we view (or don’t view) the Aurora Borealis, and on a more metaphorical reading, light and dark forces in human action have brought about these changes.

Anna Rubin, United States                                         

For the Love of Bees (2010; rev. 2019)

6 pieces for Piano and Narrator

  1. Swarms
  2. Sting
  3. Solitary Bee
  4. Assassin Bees
  5. Honey Queen
  6. Ode to Bees and Their Keepers

For the Love of Bees is a six-part suite.  It was originally composed for Dr. Margaret Lucia in a solo piano version with four parts [Honeybee Works] in 2010. Rubin expanded the piece in 2019 at the request of Sandrine Erdely-Sayo, director of the Piano on the Rocks International Festival, and added a narrative.  The idea for the piece was generated by her growing awareness of hive declines due to Colony Collapse Disorder, climate change, parasites and other causes. As Rubin learned more about bees, including interviewing experts at the US Department of Agriculture, she also learned more about their social behavior and their critical role as pollinators.   The narrative is also available in Spanish (Por El Amor de Las Abejas.)

For each section, Rubin used some of the striking characteristics of bees as a natural metaphor along with a particular pianistic technical challenge.  Each section also explores a particular compositional/harmonic issue, in the manner of the traditional etude.  In various sections, Rubin was responding to the piano compositions of Debussy, Chopin, Bartok, Messaien and the Cuban jazz pianist, Chucho Valdés. 

Ann adds: I am thrilled that my friend and colleague the poet Athena Kildegaard will be narrating these with me! 

Minato Sakamoto, Japan                                            

Nocturne for Chinese Railway (2018)

Railway is a highly energy-efficient, environmentally-friendly transportation. The recent expansion of the railway network in China transformed railway into the main mode of Chinese mobility. This piece credits Chinese railway maintenance workers, who examine various train facilities in nocturnal calmness and thus make a tiny, lonely, and anonymous contribution to saving our earth.

Ann adds: I find this piece beautiful in unexpected ways. And I like that it encourages us to use public transportation, which can help reverse climate change by reducing fossil fuel consumption. 

Paul SanGregory, United States/Taiwan                    

Weather Sketches (2019)

  1. Dry Spell
  2. Gentle Rain                                              

This piece was composed for and premiered at the 2019 Earth Day new music festival at Xinghai School of Music in Guanzhou, China. In keeping with the festival’s theme relating to the Earth, I chose to focus on a couple aspects of the Earth’s weather. Musically, the interval of the 5th appears throughout both movements because, just as the weather is a primal aspect of life on Earth, so the 5th is a primal element of music and timbre. 

“Dry Spell,” the first of these two sketches, evokes the empty dry feeling of a summer drought. In this movement, the 5ths not only help create a sense of space, they also provide color and, near the end, are used to evoke heat slowly rising from the Earth’s surface. The second movement, “Gentle Rain,” is built around two basic ideas, one gently falling and the other steadily rising. The falling idea represents gentle rain, and the rising idea represents plants and trees rising out of the Earth and reaching toward the sky.