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At-A-Glance

Composed: 2009-2010

Length: c. 7 minutes

Orchestration: piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, and strings

About this Piece

Aurora premiered at the St. Louis Symphony’s gala season opening concert in October 2010, led by David Robertson, with soprano soloist Renée Fleming. It is the intended climax of a large-scale setting of The Rock Cries Out to Us Today, the poem Maya Angelou wrote for Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1992. Though Shorter and Fleming had been discussing the idea of doing this piece for a decade or more, it came together in final form quite quickly in the summer of 2010. (Fleming also sang the work during Shorter’s tribute portion of the Kennedy Center Honors in 2018.)

“Musically [the piece has] the kind of wonderfully spun-out lyrical melodies that we know from his saxophone playing, scored with a really rich harmonic background so that it already feels like a major part of the American musical landscape,” Robertson said in a St. Louis Post-Dispatch interview before the gala. “The best part is the way it fits hand in glove with Renée’s voice.”

Actually, the music may have gestated for more than half a century, according to Shorter’s comments to R.J. DeLuke in a 2013 All About Jazz interview:

“But when you write something, it’s not for anyone when you write it. You just hold onto it until somebody wants to record it,” Shorter said, referring to Aurora. “I started it when I was 19, around 1952. Just starting NYU, because I worked for a year before I went to college. I continued it and finished it in 2009, this piece called Aurora. She [Fleming] did it with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. You never know. You just do things. There’s no mystery. I figured out how to write music when I was about 16. Little notes. I wrote about 28 arrangements for a dance band. For people to dance to. A lot of them were mambo, Latin stuff. I wanted to have some fun with the rhythm.”