Music of the Earth

Ensemble 20/21 | February 11, 2023 8:00 p.m.

Critically acclaimed Chickasaw composer and pianist Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate explores the intersection of classical and Indigenous musical cultures through his compositions, and the title of this astounding piece for solo timpani comes from the Chickasaw word for thunder and lighting. Throughout history, the Chickasaw people believed thunderstorms were the holy people at war above the clouds. Defying death and displaying courage, these warriors would shoot their guns into the sky during the storms. Talowa’ Hiloba (Thunder Song) is an homage to this tradition.

Inspired by Oiseaux, a collection of poems by Saint-John Perse, award-winning Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho’s Terrestre is a reworking of the second movement of her flute concerto, Aile du songe (Wing of Dream). This beguiling chamber piece uses the rich metaphor of birds to describe life’s mysteries. However, unlike Messiaen’s Oiseaux Exotiques, another avian-influenced composition featured later in the program, Saariaho seems to be more intrigued by the idea of birds than referencing the sounds they make. 

Terrestre is divided into two parts. The first frenetic movement, Oiseau dansant” (“Dancing Bird”), refers to the Aboriginal tale of a bird teaching an entire village how to dance. The second, “L’Oiseau, un satellite infima,” likens the bird to a satellite in celestial orbit. Not only does this spirited work explore intriguing soundscapes, but it calls for the flutist to occasionally sing while simultaneously playing, creating a conversation between voice and musical instrument. 

Written in memory of his dear friend and lifelong camping buddy Gordon Wright, American composer and environmental activist John Luther Adamss breathtaking solo work for violin or cello evokes the vast, untamed beauty and rugged terrain of the Alaskan wilderness. These poignant musical sketches encapsulate three moments and places throughout Adams and Wright’s thirty-year camaraderie. With clear and resonant sounds produced as natural harmonics or on open strings, this reflective piece transports the listener to a quiet pass in the Sadelerochit Mountains, then high above on a wind-whipped summit, and finally, looking out across the waters of Turnagain Arm toward the Resurrection Valley and the tiny settlement of Hope. 

A passion for birds and music collides in French composer, organist, and ornithologist Olivier Messiaen’s dazzling 1956 piece for piano and small orchestra, Oiseaux exotiques. Based on the recorded songs of 47 exotic species of birds throughout China, India, Malaysia, and North and South America, this chirping, squawking celebration of life is full of colorful noises, both strident and shrieking, cheerful and richly sonorous. The virtuosic musicians of Ensemble 20/21 invite the audience to witness a feathered frenzy inside an imaginary aviary, as they play this delightfully jittery, cacophonous score, with percussive Indian and Greek rhythmic patterns scattered throughout.

Gulli Bjornsson’s beautifully meditative set of 11 pieces for solo guitar draws its inspiration from the ice fields, soaring mountains, and volcanic peaks, bays, and fjords of the Icelandic guitarist and composer’s homeland. Composed through repetitive patterns, these thematically unconnected pieces become increasingly more challenging as they progress, unified only through the similar aesthetics and musical concepts they display. The performance, featuring selections from the entire work, will be accompanied by striking visual material created by processing various images and stock videos through pixel processing and interactive shaders in visual programming software Max.

The evening concludes with a riveting performance of Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout by Gabriela Lena Frank, Latin Grammy winner, pianist, and recent composer-in-residence with The Philadelphia Orchestra. Within her compositions, she pays homage to her Peruvian, Chinese, and Lithuanian-Jewish heritage, often integrating the mythology, poetry, art, and folk music of South America into western classical forms. This complex and imaginative six-movement suite, performed by a string quartet, is a fascinating collection of miniature tone poems. 

Inspired by the “idea of mestizaje as envisioned by Peruvian writer José María Arguedas, where cultures can coexist without the subjugation of one by the other,” Frank’s captivating work explores aspects of ancient Peruvian civilization with modern musical influences. The piece immediately draws the listener in—from the imitative sounds of large panpipes and wooden duct flutes to Incan messengers sprinting across the Andes, professional crying women, and sensual love songs. 

JEROD TATE Talowa’ Hiloha
OLIVIER MESSIAEN Oiseaux Exotiques
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