On November 12, 2017, the Chicago Philharmonic presented the second concert in their “Glorious Earth” series at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph Drive, Chicago. Entitled “Sonorous Earth”, it was a program celebrating the wonders of being alive in the universe, with all its abundance of earthly things and centered around a premiere of the same name by composer Augusta Read Thomas. The Philharmonic was led by conductor Scott Speck and featured the musical artists of Third Coast Percussion Quartet, David Skidmore, Robert Dillon, Peter Martin and Sean Connors.
The program included:
–JOAN TOWER Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman No. 5, 1993
The Fanfare is actually a series of five fanfares written between 1986 and 1993 that Tower revised and collected into a single piece in 1997. Each of her fanfares, which playfully riff on the name of Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, are dedicated to noteworthy women who are ‘risk-takers and adventurers.’” In 2014 the series was elevated to the National Recording Registry after being judged “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important.” This year a 6th fanfare was added and given its world premiere earlier this May by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Tower said she “never had any reservations about adding onto a series of works that at least to some observers might have seemed completed.”
The 5th Fanfare was a commission by the Aspen Music Festival for the opening of the Joan and Irving Harris Concert Hall in 1993; thus, it is uniquely fitting that it be performed at the Joan and Irving Harris Center for Music and Dance. Chicago Philharmonic trumpet musicians David Inmon, Matthew Comerford, Channing Philbrick and William Denton performed the brief and memorable work, which was passionate, bold and dynamic, ranging from sensitive to discordant.
–AUGUSTA READ THOMAS Sonorous Earth, 2017
#1: INVOCATION — PULSE RADIANCE
(Homage to Olivier Messiaen and Igor Stravinsky)
#2: PRAYER — STAR DUST ORBITS
(Homage to Luciano Berio and Pierre Boulez)
#3: MANTRA — CEREMONIAL TIME SHAPES—-
(Homage to Lou Harrison and György Ligeti)
#4: REVERIE — CRYSTAL LATTICE
(Homage to Edgard Varèse, Harry Partch and John Cage)
The members of Third Coast Percussion shared their thoughts about this shimmering transcendent piece on their website:
“This work embodies everything that has made Augusta Read Thomas one of our favorite collaborators over the years: an ambitious enthusiasm, precise attention to detail, thoughtful sense of craft, and deep understanding of sonic colors. For us, this work represents a unique contribution to both the orchestral and percussion ensemble repertoire.”
Third Coast also introduced the piece from the stage, noting Thomas is “the only composer who could’ve sculpted this so thoughtfully and carefully”.
Read Thomas advised this reviewer that she worked on the piece, which represented “a massive massive effort” for a year and a half and “was able to listen to and touch the instruments at anytime in the process”.
Over 300 bells and metal objects from around the world were incorporated into the 4 distinctive movements, ranged on racks and a center table. Throughout the performance, the clearly mesmerized members of Third Coast carefully and swiftly moved about the stage, interacting with each other and with joy; the Philharmonic produced a background of jazzy intellectual harmonics.
INVOCATION called to mind the sound of zithers. It was a flourish literally cosmic in scope and sound effects, with isolated bright shimmering shapes. At times this dramatic movement seemed to stretch and then build upon itself, dying away and leaving traces in the air.
PRAYER found the members of Third Coast decisively selecting mallets and approaching the table of metal objects with a reverent deliberateness; they literally gently stirred the sound. This piece was cerebral, mystical, deliberately otherworldly and intellectual.
MANTRA ranged from delicate and intimate through lively and picturesque. The movements of Third Coast followed suit, as they seemed to pose and dance, with the Philharmonic providing a welter of complex cerebrally sensuous melody.
REVERIE CARILLON was played attacca, using all of the instrumentation of Third Coast Percussion. In their own words, they ”begin at the Burma Bells and work our way through all the previous playing positions in a purposeful choreography”. The movement is a triumphant and lyrically calibrated cacophony.
“Oh, from out the sounding cells, What a gush of euphony voluminously wells!”
From “The Bells“, by Edgar Allan Poe, published posthumously, 1849.
–WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART Symphony No. 41 in C Major, “Jupiter”, 1788
Mozart did not actually call his last (and arguably most famous) symphony the “Jupiter.” According to his son Franz Xavier Mozart, it was the London impresario Johann Peter Salomon who gave it this nickname as “a catchy advertising device”. The name of the supreme God of the Roman’s would seem to fit this work, long considered the “loftiest and most magisterial of Mozart’s symphonies, with a formal and ceremonial quality”, which goes beyond it’s high church use of C major and trumpet/timpanic scoring; the entire conception is majestic, the melodic themes formal and original.
The first movement is quite dramatic and intense, combining a militaristic opening with subsequent lyrical tenderness in the violins and woodwinds, followed by a gay and impudent melody. The slow movement enters with a gentle, sad theme that becomes dark, aggressive and dissonant before the opening music’s recapitulation.
The third movement Minuet is a lovely formal dance filled with sparks of woodwinds and violins, which gives a strong heralding preview of the famous 4-note theme that heralds the finale.
At the last, the score is drenched in counterpoint as Mozart uses intricate instrumental interplay to create an overwhelming impression that is wonderfully rich and exciting. The music embraces 5 overarching themes beginning with the aforementioned 4-note opening, derived from Gregorian chant, and ending in a sensational double fugue.
Before commencing the symphony, Speck enthusiastically described the 5 themes of the last movement with the Philharmonic demonstrating for the audience. As performed, it was a thrilling coda to the “Jupiter” and to the afternoon.
For information and tickets to all the fine programs of the Chicago Philharmonic, go to www.chicagophilharmonic.org
Unless otherwise noted, all photos by Elliot Mandel