Prayers for a Feverish Planet – Program Notes VIII.

Julia Mermelstein • Darleen Mitchell • Salam Murtada • Maria Christine Muyco • Bosba Panh

Julia Mermelstein, Canada                                         

Only Edges (2018)

“Only edges” explores the intensity of a barren landscape—overwhelmed by extreme heat—exposing the vulnerable to frequent disturbance. There is a sense of desolate space that always lingers throughout the transformations that occur.

Ann adds: Check back for my thoughts on this edgy (no pun intended) work for piano and electronics.

Darleen Mitchell, United States                                 

For the Beauty of the Earth (2020)

For the Beauty of the Earth takes its title from a hymn of the same name, a hymn which praises and gives thanks for this earth, the skies, sun and moon, day and night, hill and vale, tree and flower. Unlike the original hymn from the early Industrial Age (1860’s) this piece is also a prayer, and a plea, to value this beautiful earth, to acknowledge and work for countering the effects of climate change, and to keep our beautiful planet free from those human forces and greed which could destroy it. For the Beauty of the Earth is mostly peaceful and encourages reflection upon this beautiful earth and the hope of returning to its beauty and peace. 

Ann adds: It’s also fascinating to me that the three composers who used the pre-existent hymn “For the Beauty of the Earth” are all women (the others being Vanessa Cornett and Wendy Davis).

Salam Murtada, United States/ Jordan                       

Our Masterpiece Destroyed! (2020)

During his speech at the 2014 Minnesota Water Resources Conference, Paul Douglas, a famous meteorologist, made a very interesting analogy about climate change. He compared climate change to a symphony orchestra during a performance, where every instrument would gradually fall out of harmony, ultimately succumbing torandom noise and utter chaos. This composition, or decomposition rather, is based on the same concept where a masterpiece written by J.S. Bach (Prelude in C, BWV 846, The Well-Tempered Clavier) is being gradually destroyed and transformed into an unrecognizable chaotic entity.

Ann adds: Salam has cleverly written “de-composed by Salam Murtada” on the score. 2022, when this piece will receive its premiere, is coincidentally the 300th anniversary of the publication of the first volume of the Well-Tempered Clavier. 

Maria Christine Muyco, the Phillipines                     

Ga Sirum Sirum

“Ga Sirum Sirum” is a Philippine-Visayan term that refers to the changing colors of the sky at twilight, accompanied by the sounds of crickets signaling the shift of time. The experience of this changing moment always awes the composer, a reflective time for such nature’s wonders. In her piano music, she brings out the picturesque colors through tone clusters, running arpeggios, and also in quiet passages that reveal the composer’s sentimental take on the twilight experience. Time is essayed in many ways including flexed duration and alternative tempi. Just like in abstract painting, this piece is a metaphor of sound and colors positioned in various temporalities, expressing the passing of everything in this world, including one’s life. 

Ann adds: I find the themes of twilight/night, the passage of time, and even insects (which are disappearing …) evocative.

Bosba Panh, Cambodia                                               

le peu de temps qu’il nous reste … (2018)

The piece generally attempts to capture the essence of the passage of time, and how much yet so little each of us have left on earth. I did think at some point during the time of writing about the general responsibility one feels on their shoulder when faced with the climate crisis, particularly in my case the different environmental issues we have in Cambodia. I didn’t seek out to particularly represent that though in the music (the Cambodian aspect), and mostly focused on the aspect of humans’ existential crisis. The piece was originally a style study piece, so these were the general premises. 

Ann adds: This piece and its harmonic colors remind me of Debussy. The opening tempo marking lointain, mélancholique (“distant, melancholy”) captures the haunting and beautiful character.