On Wednesday, Sept. 5th, the 2nd and final year of my Composer-in-Residence position with CUSO began with a fantastic chamber music concert! Titled “Messages from Gaia,” maestro Stephen Alltop, members of the Champaign Urbana Symphony Orchestra, soprano Josefien Stoppelenburg, and baritone Ryan de Ryke all gave wonderful performances of several of my earth-themed chamber works.
Why are we focusing on the planet? As you’ll see from CUSO’s 2018/19 season, this year’s theme is “Our World, Our Music.” We will be showcasing works that reflect upon and highlight different aspects of our planet earth. To get things started, our “Messages from Gaia” concert presented my Phoenix Rising for solo flute, my String Quartet No. 3: Gaia, and two arias from Terra Nostra, my oratorio that will be performed in its entirety on CUSO’s March 9th subscription concert.
Our concert began with flutist Amanda Pond delivering a sublime performance of my Phoenix Rising. This piece tells the story of the fictional bird that dies as an old bird in a bed of embers before being reborn as a young bird. Next, we heard Josefien Stoppelenburg sing a lovely rendition A child said, what is the grass? from Terra Nostra. This aria helps highlight one of the main goals of the oratorio, which links ourselves to the planet from which everything springs forth. The text for this aria was written by Walt Whitman, as was the text for the next aria, Smile O voluptuous cool-breathed earth! Ryan de Ryke sang this aria, which is a love song to the planet, with wonderful passion.
The final piece on the program was my 30-minute String Quartet No. 3: Gaia, which contains five movements. These movements explore Gaia over the course of a loose narrative, presenting Gaia’s musical “theme,” the birth of the planet, a celebratory dance of her creations, the agony of what modern day life is doing to her resources, and the hope that our blue green globe will forever spin peacefully throughout the universe. Our string quartet members, featuring violinists Maria Arrua and Aaron Jacobs, violist Robin Kearton, and cellist Barbara Hedlund, played the quartet with great exuberance.
Maestro Alltop conducted several of the works, and I emcee’ed the event. We had a wonderful turnout, and all enjoyed a reception with beef and chicken sliders afterward. We also utilized this moment to start a “Messages to Gaia” art and poetry project, which I’ll post more about soon.
Thank you to everyone who joined us, and I am thankful for the wonderful performances provided by all of our fabulous musicians! Stay tuned for our next earth-themed event, which will happen at Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery on Sunday, September 23rd, 2-4 PM.