Prayers for a Feverish Planet – Program Notes VI.

Slavomír Hořínka • Frank Horvat • Elyse Kahler • Francis Kayali • Karen Lemon

Slavomír Hořínka, Czech Republic                                        

Trust in Heart (2016-18)

My inspiration came from experience in the French village Taizé.

I stood directly below a relatively low bell tower with five great bells during their ringing. The sound pressure was, for me, at the threshold of pain. I experienced the sound literally as haptic. I suddenly realized that my attention jumps completely uncontrolled between the various cuts of the rich sound spectrum of the bells, focusing on the beat of waves or wandering between the chosen frequencies.

What I see as crucial regarding the theme of your project is the change of listening (or generally perceiving) perspective. If I would paraphrase master Eckhardt: The ear through which I hear God is the same ear through which God hears me. If we experience the world deeply with our senses (especially hearing), we cannot stay indifferent to its wailing.

For the listener I am trying to create retrograde experience – gradual transition of focus from the piano sound into the sound of bells. This change of perspective of space (immersion) I am trying to recreate for performer in the piece through change of measuring of the time. (In our lives, time and space are bound like flesh and soul.) In one moment there is a change in measuring of musical time – it is from that moment determined by performers breathing.

Ann adds: I love the mystical quality of this piece. Check back for more thoughts.

Frank Horvat, Canada                                                 

Heat Island (2017)

Heat Island – When you read the words “Heat Island”, one might imagine “fun-in-the-sun” touristy images or the title of some chintzy Reality TV show. The true reality though is that the Heat Island Effect is a serious part of man-made climate change. On any hot summer day within an urban area, everything is even more hot than it should be simply because of the sun’s reflection off an infinite amount of concrete and building surfaces. 

The Heat Island Effect isn’t just some visual effect where you see waves emanating from concrete…it can be quite deadly. Thankfully some cities are already taking steps to curb the effect, like making it mandatory for new building construction to have green roofs and more green space being incorporated into urban planning. But more must be done and quickly if the world has an opportunity to curb the disastrous effects of climate change. 

The rumbly and murky start of this composition attempts to emulate the world oozing heat from pavement. As the piece progresses, it gradually works it’s way up to the higher registers with a more calm tone. This symbolizes the hope that I have that we do have the ability to transform the earth back to a more natural state so it won’t emit so much heat. At the beginning, the piano is dark and foreboding. By the end, it’s calm and soothing – Earth is breathing once again.

Ann adds: Frank and I met at the Canadian Federation of Music Teachers Association conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 2013, so it was a delight to receive his piece. I’m currently planning to program it with Alex Porter’s Cementscapes movement, creating a bit of a narrative: the industrialization that happens through creating cementscapes leading to the heat island effects.

Elyse Kahler, United States                                         

A Thread of Hope (2020)

Humanity is obsessed with “stuff.” We are fixated with getting new stuff – the newest phone, the latest book/movie/game, the most fashionable clothes. And yet at the exact same time we are preoccupied with getting rid of stuff – living minimally, cleaning out closets, Marie Kondo-ing our belongings, and most dangerously to the planet, throwing away single-use plastics. Single-use plastics like straws, plastic bags, water bottles, and wipes not only pollute our oceans and land, but also contribute to rising levels of heat-trapping gasses from their production to when they are thrown out. 

A Thread of Hope begs us to continue being obsessed with stuff: obsessed with how we treat the stuff we accumulate and mindfully reuse the things we already have, recycle the things we won’t use anymore, and reduce and refuse the things we bring into our lives to begin with. 

Musically, nature is represented by a single E – the Thread –, resounding over and over again. E can mostly be found throughout the piece, but sometimes it’s hard to find, sometimes it’s distorted into an Eb, and sometimes it’s gone from our ears completely as more and more notes – more stuff – are added. The additional weight of notes and humanity’s plastic waste is lot for a fragile thread of nature to sustain. Ultimately, A Thread of Hope asks us to consider how we can return to the simplicity of nature and in doing so, save Planet Earth from the harm humanity’s baggage has caused her.

Ann adds: I didn’t receive many pieces (or any beyond this one, I think) specifically about plastic. I hope that by including the work some people (including me) will be more mindful and rethink their plastic consumption.

Francis Kayali, France/United States                         

What Have We Done? (2020)

“What have we done?” is a piano miniature composed for pianist Ann DuHamel’s “Prayers for a Feverish Planet” project. It represents the realization that things have gone awry in our environment and that the lifestyle to which we are culturally addicted is responsible for this destruction. The anxiety at the dismal landscape is depicted musically with unsettled melodic lines and unpredictable metric shifts. The piece ends with an alarm bell that soon dissolves into shifting low notes representing our uncertain future.

Ann adds: There are only a couple of very short works on the program — most composers submitted longer pieces. The brevity of this work both serves to punctuate within a recital, and also heightens the unsettled anxiety of the music.

Karen Lemon, Australia                     

Forgive Them Not, For They Know What They Do (2020)

A lamentation on inaction against human-induced climate change

The motivation for this piece needs no more explanation than the title and subtitle provide. The title is a modified paraphrase of words attributed to Jesus Christ on his condemnation and crucifixion as appear in the Bible Gospel According to Luke, Chapter 23 (his words indicating a soul much more forgiving than my own). Similarly, the titles of the piece’s three sections –

“… they do these things when the tree is green …”

“… what will they do when it is dry?”

and “Weep for yourselves and for your children”

– are words attributed by Luke to Jesus, though here they are given a different focus. 

Our climate situation is dire. We can each of us act to make a small improvement, but the necessary great improvement, and lasting change for the good, can only be achieved if we all of us act. 

Ann adds: This piece captivated me from the first second I listened to it: the opening shimmering and hypnotic trance-like texture devolves into chaos, and finally a mournful, haunting hymn at the end. It’s brilliantly composed with the intervallic relationships and motivic coherence throughout.