Panthalassa (Water, Because It Sings)

Instrumentation 2/2/2/2; 4/2/3/0; timpani + 1 perc; orchestral strings (min. 88642)
Percussion requirements vib, glock, large tam-tam, 3 tom-toms (h/m/l), bass drum

Timing ca. 12′

Composed 2016

Commissioned by the Victoria Symphony with assistance from the Victoria Foundation Hugh Davidson Fund

World Premiere February 3, 2017, Cowichan Performing Arts Centre, Duncan, British Columbia. Victoria Symphony; Tania Miller, conductor

Programme Notes

And the water, because it sings
a song so old no one remembers it,
drags its beauty slowly.…

(from Water by Patrick Lane)

I keep a file of poems whose words and imagery speak music to me. Patrick Lane’s evocative Water, from his collection The Bare Plum of Winter Rain, has been in that file for a long time. When Tania Miller, Music Director of the Victoria Symphony, invited me to write a new work for her final season and to connect that work to a British Columbia writer, the opportunity I had been waiting for finally arrived.

Lane’s poem speaks of the beauty and pain of being water, and how we can hear it if we really listen. Water’s “old song” reminds us that water has existed for a very long time, changing form, but neither created nor destroyed, even going back to Earth’s original superocean Panthalassa, whose water is the same water on Earth today. Our planet’s history is contained in water. The way that water flows and transforms, singing its old song and conveying that history, was the image uppermost in my imagination every time I put pencil to manuscript paper.

The music of Panthalassa (Water, Because It Sings) begins with a single drop, quickly joined by more and more drops, building in density, rising and subsiding in a series of ever-bigger waves, evaporating into the air then returning to the ground, becoming a creek, a river, an ocean. It is constantly in motion at some level, but moving at different speeds simultaneously in the way that even water that seems still has only the illusion of stillness. In a climactic moment, we are completely submerged in water, becoming a part of water, looking out from within water, until another wave lifts us up again and drives forward in a torrent. As the music nears its close, it returns to that single drop, the drop that started it all, the drop we might have followed through the whole piece, the drop that might have been each of us merging with others into something bigger.

Panthalassa (Water, Because It Sings) was commissioned by the Victoria Symphony with assistance from the Victoria Foundation Hugh Davidson Fund, and is dedicated to Tania Miller.

PDF score excerpts

Coming soon.

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