Prayers for a Feverish Planet – Program Notes XI.

Paul Szpyrka • Yasuhiro Takenaka • Erick Tapia • David Evan Thomas • Kristian Twombly

Paul Szpyrka, United States                                                              

Resurrection of Icarus, VII. “Into Light” (2015)

Broken by his own ambition, Icarus learns to heal and is redeemed. This album is a journey from fragmentation to unity. As the album progresses, grief turns to reflection and then to excitement and hope.

“Awake, Fragments!

Coalesce a Dream,

Transforming Night

Into Light.”

Ann adds: I chose this work because it is very uplifting and hopeful.

Yasuhiro Takenaka, Japan                                          

Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan, I. “Cherry blossoms falling like snowflakes” (2014)                                                                        

The title of the work, Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan, is borrowed from the book of the same title written by Lafcadio Hearn (Japanese name: 小泉八雲 Koizumi Yakumo) and published in the U.S. in 1894. Although Japanese cartoons, animations, computer games and sushi are widely known, people in other countries are still unfamiliar with many things in Japan. There may be something Japanese that holds a certain attraction for those people. I hope that a glimpse into an unfamiliar Japan may spark a new fascination with Japan. 

Sakura-fubuki 桜吹雪 “Cherry blossoms falling like snowflakes”

The cherry blossom is a unique flower with special meaning to Japanese. When spring comes, Japanese are fascinated with the full blooming cherry blossoms and feel a natural attraction to their blooms. However, the life of cherry blossoms is short and they are soon gone. Strong winds strip wingy petals from cherry trees, and the petals fall like a waterfall: beauty with pathos and emotion. Throughout the ages, Japanese people have loved cherry blossoms’ short but gracious life. A cherry blossom can be identified with individual human life. After surviving a harsh winter, the flowers bloom. They die when they are still beautiful but forever remain in our hearts. To a Japanese person, cherry blossoms represent the ideal cycle of life.

Ann adds: I chose this piece because of the ephemeral qualities it evokes.

Erick Tapia, Mexico               

Solipsismo (2019)

It is a work of introspection and internal reflection, which is managing harmonic parameters and colors together with the conviction of register to create a dark environment that gradually becomes bright as a reflection of freedom.

Inscribed at the top of the score:

En la montaña vacía no se ve un hombre,

sólo se oye el eco de voces humanas.

Vuelven las sombras, entran profundo en el bosque,

otra vez brilla el Sol, sobre los líquenes verdes.

             Wang Wei – El parquet de los ciervos

In the empty mountain there is not a man to be seen,

only the echo of human voices is heard.

The shadows return, they go deep into the forest,

the Sun shines again, on the green lichens. 

             Wang Wei – The Deer Park

Ann adds: One of the definitions that Merriam-Webster lists for “solipsism” is “extreme egocentrism.” Many small acts of solipsism have brought about the current climate crisis, so I’m including this piece as a reflection on thinking beyond the self. You’ll hear some repeated-note motives that I think musically reflect the idea of being absorbed in one thing. Most of the piece is written out, though there are moments with improvisatory elements. The work also reminds me a bit of the harmonic language of Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera.

David Evan Thomas, United States                            

Landscape of Shadow and Light (2012)

Viewed from the side in an abstract way, the piano keyboard is a little black-cliffed Dover coast. Or is it a delta, fed by thirty-odd rivers? It is certainly a landscape, the apparent contours of which change with the season and time of day. Landscape of Shadow and Light traces a Chopin-esque path from F minor to A-flat major, but it moves through many other keys on its way, touching each of the 88 keys and even implying some that aren’t there. And is that a Hardanger fiddle tune that pops up en route? It’s a tribute to the dedicatee, Thelma Hunter (1925–2015), who was proud to be “100% Norwegian.” Thelma’s contributions to musical life in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis-St Paul, Minnesota) were many and legendary, from teaching at the University of Minnesota to appearing as soloist with the Minnesota Orchestra. Landscape was commissioned for her 88th birthday; she requested that it include every key of the modern piano.

Ann: I selected this work because of the ephemeral qualities of shadow and light, and its overall uplifting character. It also has, for me, a very satisfying musical arrival.

Kristian Twombly, United States                               

Interdecadal Oscillations (2020)

Interdecadal Oscillations was written in response to a call for works on the subject of climate change from Ann DuHamel. Directly inspired by Robert Rauschenberg’s “Erased de Koonig,” the composer took a precomposed work for solo piano and filtered it through a scientific article on the subject of short (15-35 years) or longer (over 50 years) variations in surface temperature. What remains is fragmented and pointillistic, which mirrors the devastation that is left behind from such swings in temperature – for example, coral reefs that have nearly disappeared in parts of the Great Barrier Reef.

Ann adds: I asked Kristian if he could expand a bit more on his notes – mostly, I was curious about the use of “Interdecadal Oscillations” (which I’d never heard of before). 

His response, which expands a bit on the program notes: “The previously composed piece was by Brahms. 

And “interdecadal oscillations” comes from the article that I used as the “filter” for erasing the notes in the original Brahms. Basically, it refers to cycles that are longer than one decade, or between decades. I loved the phrase – it evokes sonic thoughts and refers to the aspect of climate change that I was hoping to get at.

… this process was something pretty new for me – I only employed it once before, on a solo flute piece I wrote a while back. It’s directly inspired by Robert Rauschenberg’s “Erased de Koonig”, where he bought a pencil drawing by de Koonig and then meticulously erased it and displayed the paper. It was of course impossible to fully erase the original, so some faint aspects of it remained. That very much makes me think of climate change effects like dying coral reefs.”