Arcadian Tone Poems

Arcadia – a region of ancient Greece that is “a poetic byword for an idyllic vision of unspoiled wilderness.” ~Wikipedia

James Houlik

James Houlik

Two weeks ago, Arcadian Tone Poems, a piece for tenor saxophone and orchestra was premiered. It is always an exciting event, to attend the public “unveiling” of something created in the privacy of my studio. A composition never seems complete until it is performed, and what a performance! Our marvelous Duquesne University Symphony Orchestra played with verve and skill under the direction of Jeffrey Turner and, as you will hear, James Houlik’s performance on saxophone is that of a master.

I was asked by the director to create something fun and accessible, with lots of variety in mood and tone color and to showcase the artistry of James, an extraordinary master of the classical tenor saxophone. Immediately the idea of writing a suite of tone poems came to mind, the perfect medium in which to explore the tonal colors of the saxophone and orchestra.

Evening in Arcadia by Thomas Cole

Evening in Arcadia by Thomas Cole

Tone poems, or symphonic poems, arose as a musical form in the 19th century Romantic era of music, and are “intended to inspire listeners to imagine or consider scenes, images, specific ideas or moods.” When searching for a way to feature the classical saxophone in an imaginary landscape, the idea of a pipe or horn being played in the wilderness suggested the role of the shepherd moving through the landscape and describing its beauty through music. “Arcadia is associated with bountiful natural splendor, harmony, and is often inhabited by shepherds” and so the idea for a suite of four tone poems was born.

The program notes from the premiere:

Written to showcase the saxophone artistry of virtuoso James Houlik, “Arcadian Tone Poems” is a series of aural impressions of the mythic land of Arcadia. Ancient Greeks envisioned a pastoral paradise of hills and valleys, mountains, streams, and forests, populated by the ancient gods. Imagine a contest of aerial acrobatics between birds over a meadow strewn with flowers, or a broad flowing river rushing through the mountains, carrying water sprites on the foam. Perhaps Pan, the ruler of Arcadia, is playing a haunting melody deep in a cathedral forest punctuated by columns of light, or Zeus and his sons amuse themselves with a dramatic game of throwing thunderbolts across the hills. Each movement is meant to be an imaginary stroll through a different aspect of this ancient paradise.

Here’s a montage of selections from each movement of Arcadian Tone Poems 

Here is an audio file of the complete third movement, “Shadow and Light”  (©2013 Lynn Emberg Purse)  

A special thanks to my husband, Bill Purse, for his formidable skills as audio engineer and producer in the process of mixing and mastering the concert recording.

Read more about the creation of Arcadian Tone Poems in Playing With Thunder.

September Song

Oh, it’s a long long while from May to December,
But the days grow short when you reach September. ~lyrics by Maxwell Anderson, from September Song

Sweet Autumn Clematis

Those long summer evenings are gone, borne away on the boom and crack of violent thunderstorms. Perhaps a few more warm nights remain, filled with the summer songs  of cicadas and frogs, but the weather is quickly changing to the cool short days of fall. It has been an odd summer – weather spinning from torrential rains and steamy days to the occasional stretch of dry sunny weather. Now the garden is filled with the sunny blooms of goldenrod and black-eyed susan; the last crop of cherry tomatoes glisten in shiny red cascades, and a giant cloud of fragrant white stars covers the sweet autumn clematis climbing up the fence and into the trees. All the creatures are busy filling their larders against the coming winter, from spiders bundling up yellow jackets caught in their webs to squirrels and chipmunks gathering acorns under the oak trees. The hummingbirds and most of the butterflies have headed south and flying V’s of geese are starting to follow them. Next week, the autumn solstice returns and summer will be truly gone.

As I wander the garden these days, pruning and weeding in preparation for bulb planting, I keep hearing the lovely “September Song” in my mind.  Here are a few images from the final days of the garden and a lovely clip of Ella Fitzgerald singing Kurt Weil’s haunting song. It is a lovely experience to start the music as a soundtrack before exploring the photos. (Click on any image to start the slide show – all images ©2013 Lynn Emberg Purse.)

Endings and Beginnings

Sunrise

I awoke early last Monday morning, feeling as if I were on the “champagne stage” of the Tour de France, where the victorious pedal into Paris for the last leg of a long race while sipping champagne. I had just finished composing my saxophone concerto the night before; all that was left to do was a little tweaking and formatting. Angel and I took a walk at dawn, witnessing a spectacular sunrise through storm clouds that were passing away, an apt visual metaphor for the intense few months I had spent writing this piece. I was on the champagne stage now – just a few more hours of studio time and I would indulge in a glass of prosecco at the end of the day.

Hydrangea 'Limelight'

The world changed while I was preoccupied in my studio. I vaguely remember seeing the garden when I came out to visit for an hour or two each day, but my head was full of music and I wasn’t really paying close attention.  Now that I’ve had a week to reorient myself, I’m a bit taken aback. I feel as if I’ve gone through a magical revolving door from the gaudy splendor of the July garden to the mellow pace of August. A few daylily blooms persist but the color banner is carried forward by the large blowsy flowers of PeeGee Hydrangeas, Rose of Sharon, tall stands of garden phlox, the bright daisy forms of Echinacea and Rudbeckia, and the fresh rebloom of roses.

It is now a more relaxed garden, requiring a relaxed butterflyWPattitude towards the insect damaged leaves of blooming plants and a tolerance for the gradual disintegration of carefully crafted color combinations. The quiet of dusk and dawn have been filled with a raucous chorus of cicadas by day and the bold throbbing songs of tree frogs by night. Flocks of butterflies cover the Buddleia (butterfly bush) by the deck and hummingbirds in two’s and three’s feed on the Salvias nearby.

July has ended, August has begun and their sights and sounds are distinctly different. It has taken me a week to begin writing in words instead of notes, and of raising the camera to my eye once again.  Here are a few portraits of the garden in August. Enjoy, and perhaps join me in a glass of champagne to celebrate the beauty of endings and beginnings.

When you’re young you prefer the vulgar months, the fullness of the seasons. As you grow older you learn to like the in-between times, the months that can’t make up their minds. Perhaps it’s a way of admitting that things can’t ever bear the same certainty again. ― Julian BarnesFlaubert’s Parrot (courtesy of Good Reads)

Playing With Thunder

A Beam of Light ©2011 Lynn Emberg Purse, All Rights ReservedIt has been a tough month; almost daily thunderstorms with copious rain have become the norm. My garden is a swamp and many hours have been spent in the basement holding Angel, my lovely standard poodle, in my arms as a comforting shield against the sub-sonic power of a thunderstorm. My third (!) blog post, Anatomy of a Thunderstorm, included a recording of an August storm captured on my Zoom recorder. So?

Irvington_statue_of_Rip_van_Winkle

Rip van WInkle statue

If you haven’t seen me recently visiting your blogs, there is a reason. I am now in my studio, where I have been for weeks, putting the final touches on a large concerto piece for tenor saxophone and orchestra called “Arcadian Tone Poems” (more about that next week!) One of the movements “Playing With Thunder” draws on that recording that I made two years ago. Many myths and stories surround thunder, including Washington Irving’s American tale of Rip Van Winkle with men playing “nine pins” in the sky as well as that of the Greek Elysian Fields, the final resting places of the souls of the heroic and the virtuous, evolved from a designation of a place or person struck by lightening. (see Wikipedia) I prefer to think of thunder as a loud and boisterous conversation between yesterday’s weather hanging around too long and the new front moving in to claim temporary territory . . . or, perhaps a machismo conversation between Thor and Zeus.

So, enough said; I am deep in the completion of “Playing With Thunder” and must return to the task at hand, even though the sound of it seems to be frightening Angel all over again. Here is a link to Anatomy of a Thunderstorm. Be not afraid, it is just an evolving and sometimes raucous conversation event 🙂

That Particular One

One does a whole painting for one peach and people think just the opposite – that particular peach is but a detail. ~ Pablo Picasso

Bench swallowed by hydrangeas

Bench swallowed by hydrangeas

Blame it on the weather – we seem to have re-entered Pennsylvania’s carboniferous period, the Paleozoic era of tropical rain forests that produced those rich fields of coal, oil, and natural gas that are so currently in contention. Daily rainstorms and high temperatures have spurred green growth so luxuriant that garden paths are now covered in green plants rather than brown mulch and every garden plant is double its normal size. It is a child’s garden for adults, as I look up into the blooms of daylilies and roses above my head and vainly try to temper nature’s enthusiasm for this state of affairs.

Daylily 'Asterisk'

As a result, I offer here portraits of flowers, bewitching, entrancing,  and totally designed to disguise the unruly and weedy carpet at their feet. Any pretense at horticultural control is gone – oh, this is not a polite or nice summer garden – this is unruliness and passion at its best. So, I have narrowed my view, for purposes of this post, to the particular – the particular flower, the particular point of view, the one instead of the many. If I cannot control the garden with snippers and shovel, I will control its perception with the camera lens and what it can reveal through each flower, each leaf, each drop of rain.

bubblyWPSo many elements conspire to create this cunundrum! This was to be the year of the “total garden” – the wide view of well-defined spaces and elegant combination of elements. “Hah!” said nature and life. “You may wish for control and balance but it is not to be so! Enjoy the wild effusive growth of garden plants and weeds in equal measure and enjoy life to the fullest.” In other words, grow or die.

This week, as I try to complete a large and ambitious piece of music, I am constantly challenged. This note or that, this idea or that. It is the quantuum challenge, of choosing the particular from the field of possibilities. As a composer, I can only trust inner instincts and own my musical choices as I wander through the sound landscape and choose “this, not that.”

Enjoy this little photo gallery of the particular – the blooms that shine above the chaos of riotous growth and change. I now return to my studio to continue pursuing the choice of particular notes.

All photos ©2013 Lynn Emberg Purse, All Rights Reserved

To see more daylilies in my garden, see last year’s post “Beauty for a Day”