Prayers for a Feverish Planet

Trees of India, II. Jacaranda (2009) — Chris Williams (United Kingdom)

These three [movements of Trees of India] were inspired by the wonderful trees that grow around the city of Bangalore in India where I lived for several years. The country inspired a variety of compositions, ranging from the music theatre pieces Kim (based on the book by Rudyard Kipling), The Coolie’s Tale (about the building of the Kalka-Simla Railway at the beginning of the 20th century) to smaller scale works like these three pieces for piano, Trees of India.

I composed these in response to a request to perform something of my own at one of many recitals I gave all around the country. Having never written specifically for myself, I wanted to create something that challenged me technically whilst reflecting on a subject with an Indian theme. Once known as “The Garden City,” Bangalore used to be renowned for its trees, particularly the spectacular Gulmohar with its canopy of brilliant red flowers and feathery vibrant green leaves that bloom just before the monsoon, the Jacaranda with its delicate but luminescent purple flowers, and the enormous Rain Tree, providing swathes of shade and home to an abundance of wildlife. The name of this tree in Tamil translates as “tree with a sleeping face” on account of the leaves closing up as the sky darkens before rain or at sunset. 

During my time there, I witnessed the rapid expansion of the city and the destruction of many trees to make way for new transport and buildings, and the resulting rise in pollution, traffic and temperature; it was very much climate change at first hand. Particularly, it was watching the slaughter of a row of rain trees on the Old Madras Road to make way for the metro that moved me most, and the last of these three pieces I have subtitled Elegy. 


[added in subsequent email]: I lived in “The Garden City” for 16 years and witnessed the enormous population growth which was accompanied by hundreds of trees being felled to make way for new buildings, roads and the metro. This has resulted in a rapid growth of road traffic and with it enormous pollution, resulting in the average temperature of the city rising several degrees. It was climate change at first hand, and tragic to witness. 

Ann adds: “Jacaranda,” the second movement, is an audience favorite! I chose it because I find the music quite lovely and enchanting, with a beautifully singable melody and flowing arpeggiations.

Chris Williams

Chris began his musical career at the age of eight as a chorister at St. Paul’s Cathedral, London. Having won a scholarship to study Music at New College, Oxford, he went on to study postgraduate composition and piano at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where he won several prestigious prizes, including the Royal Philharmonic Prize for composition.

His work ranges from large-scale music theatre pieces to simple choral works, accompanied and a cappella, as well as instrumental and orchestral pieces. He lived in India for 16 years, where, for two years, he was Composer-in-Residence at the Lawrence School, Sanawar, in the Himalayan foothills, and from 2004, he lived in Bangalore as a composer, pianist and teacher.

Before India, Chris lived in Devon, U.K. In 1985, he was appointed as Musician-in-Residence at the Beaford Centre and thereafter worked freelance as a composer, teacher and musical director for choirs and music theatre, especially with The Young Company and the People’s Company at the Theatre Royal, Plymouth. Major productions of “Korczak” (about an orphanage in the Warsaw Ghetto) have been produced by YMT UK (2011), Wroclaw (2016), and Opera I Filharmonia Podlaska in Poland (under the auspices of UNESCO), which was voted the most important historical event in Poland in 2012.

His latest commission is for 1,000 voices in Plymouth and the Band of the Royal Marines to commemorate the 400th centenary of the sailing of the Mayflower from Plymouth UK to America.

Bonus content! Chris and Ann at Trinity College in England, July 2022.