Prayers for a Feverish Planet – Program Notes X.

Laura Schwendinger • Scott Senko • Saman Shahi • Judith Shatin • Randall Snyder

Laura Schwendinger, United States                                       

Magic Carpet Music, II. “Air” (2002)

The Suite was adapted for pianist Jenny Lin from the composer’s original work for flute, clarinet, violin and cello; Magic Carpet Music for Piano was premiered at Galapagos Art Space, NYC.

Ann adds: I love the use of space and register. Schwendinger is a master of form, and this piece is no exception: there is a wonderful sense of musical architecture here, a subtle but effective build up and release.

Scott Senko, United States                                         

Boiled Frog (2020)

Boiled Frog takes its title from the boiling frog fable. The premise of the story posits that a frog placed in a pot of boiling water will immediately hop out to save itself. Meanwhile a frog placed in a pot of cool or tepid water that is slowly heated over time, not sensing the immediate danger, will instead be slowly boiled to death. 

Whether or not this fable has any grounding in scientific fact (documented experiments suggest that it does not), the boiling frog tale nonetheless has served well as a metaphor for human obliviousness to incremental change toward undesirable circumstances. Over time, human beings have become accustomed to an alarming number of undesirable circumstances. In a world filled with constant war, mass incarceration, ever expanding wealth inequality, mainstream skepticism toward science, and an increasingly unstable global climate, it is difficult to comprehend how and when our chaotic existence began to feel so normal. 

Bookended with clanging alarm bells (eleven at first, then twelve at the end), this short piece is a pouring out of my own anxieties about the state of our world as well as my earnest hope that it is not too late for us to jump out of our own collective pot of boiling water.

Ann adds: I enjoy the coloristic possibilities in this work.

Saman Shahi, Canada                                                 

Chaotic Dreams (2015)

Chaotic Dreams is a short piano work that was selected as part of the 2015 Vox Novus competition for 1 minute piano works in NYC. The piece depicts anxiety that is beyond one’s conscious control, which has manic ups and downs.

Ann adds: Shahi’s piece is a great contrast to many of the works in the series in terms of length (it’s short), use of rhythms, harmonies, and articulations. It really does depict anxiety.

Judith Shatin, United States                                       

Plain Song (2015), for piano and electronics, with poetry by Charles Wright

  1. Plain Song
  2. Lullaby
  3. Shadow Smoke
  4. Tutta Gloria

One day while I was driving my car, listening to NPR, I heard a voice say ‘Live life as though you were already dead, Che Guevara declared.’ My responses, seemingly simultaneous, were: ‘fantastic line,’ and ‘wait, I know that voice – it’s Charles.’ I also knew that I would like to find a way to set it, incorporating his voice. As luck would have it, I knew Charles Wright. While we both taught at UVA, we met when we were fellows at the Rockefeller Center at Bellagio in 1990 and became friends over the years. I already knew his poetry and was taken right away with the quality of his voice: gravelly, with a soft southern flavor, not to mention the wryness and wit of his conversation. Still, I was hesitant to ask whether he would consider recording some of the poems from his new collection Caribou, and allow me to compose a piece built around them. But, I did ask, and he agreed, and we had a fine time in The Sound recording studio in Charlottesville. Mark Graham was the sound engineer, and composer Joe Adkins, assisted. I decided to compose Plain Song, named for one of the four poems, and to score the piece for piano and fixed media stereo electronics made from the recordings of his readings. These meditative poems deal with loss and death, and at the same time, with gratitude and life. They reflect his wide-ranging interests, from ancient Chinese poetry to country music! Plain Song is dedicated, with gratitude, to Charles Wright.

Ann adds: I didn’t know the poetry of Charles Wright before I received this piece. These poems are simply incredible: death, life, time, departure, silence, shadows, dark, light, songs, paradise and stars — expressed much more eloquently than by me. They don’t specifically refer to climate change, but this work is so powerful with such resonant concepts I had to include it.

Randall Snyder, United States                                    

Ice Age (2019)

Ice Age is a depiction of the Pleistocene era when slow moving glaciers covered most of Europe and large section of North America.

Ann adds: Snyder is also a performing jazz artist, and you can hear some of the jazz-influenced harmonies in this piece.