Skip to page content

Composed: 2002

Length: ca. 23 minutes

Orchestration: piccolo, 3 flutes, 3 oboes, English horn, 3 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets (1st = piccolo trumpet), trombone, bass trombone, tuba, percussion (bongos, claves, crotales, field drum, glockenspiel, large bass drum, large tam tam, low tom-toms, marimba, suspended cymbals, triangles, tubular chimes, very large woodblock, vibraphone, xylophone), piano, harp, strings, and solo trombone

First Los Angeles Philharmonic performances (world premiere)

Augusta Read Thomas is known as a passionate and highly original voice among American composers. Her influences come not only from the world of music (Bach, Berio, Boulez, Byrd, Debussy, Knussen, Mahler, Messiaen, Varèse, and Webern among them), but also from literature, especially poetry. In a November 2001 essay, musicologist Seth Brodsky argues that the poetic idea of image offers insight into Thomas' compositional art. Various images - the sun, light, the voice, song, bells, stars - run through Thomas' works. In the case of Canticle Weaving, for example, the score gives directions to the orchestra, the soloist, and the conductor such as "Fiery," "Ablaze," "A Little Dreamy," and "Lyrical and Interior" (the indication for the final pages of the work), all of which reflect the images that define the spiritual world that Thomas seeks to convey in her music.

Thomas' music is championed by leading conductors and orchestras both in the U.S. and in Europe. Her list of premieres over the last year provides a good indication of her prolific level of activity. December 2002 saw the premiere of In My Sky at Twilight for soprano and chamber orchestra with the Chicago Symphony under Pierre Boulez; Chanting to Paradise for soprano, chorus, and orchestra premiered under Christoph Eschenbach in Hamburg in November 2002; Trainwork for orchestra was first performed by the Chicago Symphony, also conducted by Eschenbach, at the Ravinia Festival in June 2002; also that month, Light the First Light of Evening was first performed by the London Sinfonietta and Oliver Knussen; and Sunlight Echoes was premiered by the Chicago Youth Symphony and Children's Choir at Carnegie Hall in February 2002. Other commissions have come from the Berlin Philharmonic, the Aspen Music Festival, the Cleveland Orchestra, and the Pittsburgh Symphony, among others, and other conductors who have programmed her work include Daniel Barenboim, Mstislav Rostropovich, Seiji Ozawa, David Robertson, Gerard Schwarz, Dennis Russell Davies, Hugh Wolff, Jahja Ling, Keith Lockhart, and Lawrence Leighton Smith.

Canticle Weaving for Trombone and Orchestra was commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic as part of a series of works giving a solo role to members of the orchestra. (William Kraft's Concerto for English Horn and Orchestra, "The Grand Encounter," launched the series in January.) The composer has provided the following note to introduce the piece.

My music must be passionate, involving risk and adventure such that any given musical moment may seem surprising when first heard but, a millisecond later, seems inevitable. I think of my music as nuanced lyricism under pressure! That said, my primary artistic concern is to communicate in an honest and passionate voice, being faithful to my deepest inner promptings and creative urges. This way, any willing listener, irrespective of prior musical knowledge, training, or background can engage with my music.

Every listener brings their own unique perspective to the listening process. In Canticle Weaving I offer them aesthetic engagements with the world and with themselves as I, too, undertake a mission of self-discovery. Music of all kinds constantly amazes, surprises, propels, and seduces me into wonderful and powerful journeys. I care deeply that music is not anonymous and generic - easily assimilated and just as easily dismissed and forgotten. Canticle Weaving has passionate, urgent, seductive, and compelling qualities of often complex (but always logical) thought allied to sensuous sonic profiles.

My favorite moment in any piece of music is that of maximum risk and striving. Whether the venture is tiny or large, loud or soft, fragile or strong, passionate, erratic, or eccentric - the moment of exquisite humanity and raw soul! All art that I cherish has elements of order, mystery, love, recklessness, and desperation. For me, music must be alive and jump off the page and out of the instrument as if something big is at stake.

This artistic credo leads me to examine small musical objects (a chord, a motive, a rhythm, a color) and explore them from many perspectives. These different perspectives reveal new musical potentials thus developing the musical discourse. In this manner, and in Canticle Weaving in particular, the music takes on an organic, circular, self-referential character which, at the same time, has a forward progression.

Taking this notion further, I have frequently been interested in reexamining musical objects across different works. Canticle Weaving reexamines musical elements which have permeated my music for the past several years in a wide variety of pieces, for example - Rise Chanting, Eagle at Sunrise, Orbital Beacons, Ceremonial, Prayer Bells, Trainwork, Light the First Light of Evening and, most recently, In My Sky at Twilight. For this reason, the title Canticle Weaving has a personal meaning - it is the end of the song that has laced its way through five or six years of my compositional life. Canticle Weaving brings to a close this chapter - it was like writing the final book in a sequel of interrelated novels. In future works the language, passion, colors, and processes of my music will remain, but I will search for new and challenging perspectives.

The work falls into two parts, "Star Song" and "Dream Evidence," which are played without a pause. These titles articulate images that were zooming around in my imagination as I composed Canticle Weaving, and the four words have many meanings to me, too many meanings to describe quickly. The music, in essence, articulates what the words mean to me. What is a star song? What is dream evidence? It is unclear, and mysterious, and this ambiguity is very interesting to me. All my titles are poetic, abstract, and usually deal with stars, moons, the sun, the cosmos, and/or things spiritual, such as Ritual Incantations, Passion Prayers, Prayer Bells, Spirit Musings, Chanting to Paradise, Daylight Divine, Chant, A Circle Around the Sun, and Fugitive Star. "Star Song" and "Dream Evidence" offer the audience an image or a feeling about the poetic space they are about to enter, without telling the audience, "This is the meaning of the music" in a literal or obvious way.

This work is dedicated with affection, admiration and gratitude to Esa-Pekka Salonen, Ralph Sauer, Ed Yim, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

-- © Augusta Read Thomas, January 2003