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Composed: 2004

Length: c. 18 minutes

Orchestration: flute, oboe, 3 clarinets (2nd = piccolo, 3rd = bass), 2 bassoons (2nd = contrabassoon), horn, trumpet, trombone, tuba, timpani, percussion (assorted cans & metal objects, bass drum, cowbells, cymbals, gongs, güiro, maracas, marimba, shell shaker, snare drum, tin torpedo, tom-toms, triangle, vibraphone, wood blocks), harp, and strings

About this Piece

Sinfonía Burocràtica ed'Amazzònica, composed for Joel Sachs and the New Juilliard Ensemble in 2004, was premiered at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, that same year. The composer has provided the following note:

The work is a tropical chamber symphony in five tableaux. The title is a clash of two opposite extremes of modern South American mythology: untamed wilderness and corrupt “civilization.” In the first movement, “La Leçon,” a nagging, repetitive staircase theme, like a line in a silly lesson, penetrates a maze of dense tropical climates, progressively shedding its typewriter business to become the underlying pulse of nocturnal creatures – frogs, crickets... and maracas.

The second movement, “Anaconda,” is a slow-moving orchestral reptile, slimy at times: an Amazonian Dodecaphonic snake, twice confronted by the shamanic healer and his throbbing chants and shakers. The Water and Earth deity of the Anaconda swallows the entire world, shrouding it in darkness; the musical healer must bring it back to light.

“Guasarana,” the third movement, has a moderately paced Venezuelan guasa structure, a genre in 5/8 meter. The nocturnal atmosphere picks up where the first movement left us and takes us to a serene landscape of tropical melancholy.

The serene transition takes us to “Bananera,” the fourth movement, built on a cumbia – the predominant genre of Colombia’s Caribbean coast and often heard in Venezuela as well. (We cannot avoid mentioning en passant García Márquez's recurrent theme: the “Masacre de las Bananeras,” the 1928 massacre of banana plantation workers – a tragic landmark in the novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, which is set precisely in that particular coastal region of Colombia). But “Bananera” is not a social complaint. The poignant, recurrent theme in the clarinets is set in a laid-back and sometimes frail dance structure, delivering sudden changes in mood and intensity, some of which are unexpectedly pompous and awkward, others ironically shabby.

The finale, “Death of the Automobile,” plays on the ultimate confrontation between rural South American poverty and the dying machine. The engine of an old clunker refuses to start, but finally agrees to a last ride on a constant downhill slope. The orchestra evokes the various stages of engine resuscitation, a cartoon clip of the final drive, down to the death of the last piston.

The strangest anecdote I can remember in the short history of this Symphony was explaining the final movement some years ago to an audience in Lansing, Michigan, in the heartland of the auto industry. Fortunately, most of the people in the audience took the ironic circumstance with a grain of salt.

— Paul Desenne