The Geography of Hope (2021)

(text: Wallace Stegner – in English)
10 min.

Asked by my home choir for a work addressing environmental concerns, I wanted to avoid as much as possible the hectoring, doom-laden tone that much nature music has taken of late – justified though it may be. Rather, I set out to take a more positive approach, to sing of an enduring love of the natural world, caution against its destruction, and speak of ways to preserve it. For, as I’ve written elsewhere on this topic, we cannot hope to preserve that which we do not love.

I found such a forward-looking voice in the form of “Wilderness Letter”, written in 1960 by the American writer and conservationist Wallace Stegner to a member of a government commission on outdoor recreation resources. It is a remarkably prescient text, deeply relevant in our present age of climate crisis, full of wisdom about our relationship to the natural world, and the point of keeping it pristine and wild and available to us. (The Finnish surname of his correspondent was another attraction, and remains in the musical setting.) With the gracious permission of Stegner’s estate, I condensed the text of the letter into a prose poem of sorts, extracting the most powerful and lyrical phrases to form a reverential, bright-toned tapestry of landscapes, memories, ideas and prayers for the future. The piece divides into two large sections – The Prairie and The Desert – extolling the beauty of the environments of Stegner’s youth, and which forged his appreciation of the wild.

The Geography of Hope is dedicated to the Audite Chamber Choir, which commissioned the work for its 30th anniversary, with funding from the regional cultural fund of Uusimaa, Finland.