Of aspens, hills, and shattered dreams (2000)
Stony Brook Symphony, cond. Barbara Yahr
3333 4331 13 harp, piano, strings (doublings: picc, eng. hn, b.cl. cbsn)
Of aspens, hills and shattered dreams takes as its central theme a search for belonging or rest, a sense of being far from home, both physically and spiritually. The title encloses three distinct metaphors. This sought-after feeling of connectedness seemed to me to be embodied in aspen trees, which may seem on the surface to be separate entities, but in reality are only small parts of a single living organism, their lives inextricably intertwined through underground root systems with that of their fellows. Hills or mountains have always been a potent archetypal symbol: of goals seen from afar but as yet unattempted, of tasks at hand, or places from the top of which one can survey other peaks and valleys. Although the final image of “shattered dreams” may seem pessimistic, it is not intended to have negative connotations, but is merely reflective of the life-altering changes one experiences, and of the dichotomy between one’s desires and one’s actual needs.
The journey toward home in Of aspens, hills and shattered dreams is made across a sonic landscape framed at the beginning and end by the ringing of wind chimes and soft, rustling music in the winds and strings. In between, the music shifts constantly from one aural impression to another, pervaded by a sense of unease as gentle but persistent dissonances refuse to resolve, and soaring melodies strive to break free of the surrounding texture. Through this dreamlike sequence, the reality of corporeal existence is glimpsed in the form of light, ephemeral dance rhythms flitting across the surface, always distant, and eventually carried away by an endless flow of melody. The dance constantly reappears, however, becoming more insistent each time. Despite renewed melodic attempts to calm the texture, the dance bursts forth anew, demanding acknowledgement, amid bell-like brass fanfares and the frenetic pounding of drums. For a brief moment the dance is joined, soaring too high too quickly, only to be torn apart in the violence of the ensuing climax. The music subsides into a rocking, lullaby-like section, in which layer upon layer of sound rises, unhindered this time, toward a final, consolatory climax, a place of solace reached not forcibly, but through a kind of self-awareness, as if the music were held aloft from within. The work ends in a rush of breath, coming full circle back to the rustling sounds of the opening, as if the journey had been ultimately unnecessary, and all that was needed were present from the start. Perhaps home is not actually reached, but I hope there is sense of acceptance of the impermanent, and of happiness in the moments of stability we are afforded. In the end, the musicis at once a requiem for innocence lost, a song of comfort for those born into the dance of life, and a hymn of joy for the simple wonder of being.