Dan Welcher (b. 1948)
Haleakalā: How Maui Snared the Sun (1991)
This tone poem with narration by Ann McCutchan was craftedas both a children's story and a piece of mature contemporary music, designedto appeal on many levels. The music, using three ancient Hawaiian chant-tunes,many authentic percussion instruments, and six Polynesian scales, is capable ofstanding alone, and in fact the work can be performed without narration.
The text is a highly evocative and poetic retelling of oneof the most famous myths about the Polynesian demigod Maui, known as 'thetrickster.' We meet Maui by reputation first with the recounting of two earlierlegends, and then in the story of Haleakalā. Maui finds his mother weepingbecause the sun moves so quickly that "the kapa (tapa cloth) won't dry,and the kalo (taro) and sweet potatoes are withering." Maui is determinedto fix this, and devises a plan to entrap the sun as it enters the chasm atHaleakalā, the sacred volcano on the island that now bears Maui's name. Onceall sixteen legs (rays) of the sun have been snared in a vigorous battle; Mauiextracts a promise from the sun to go more slowly for six months of the year,creating the winter and summer seasons.
The score is almost cinematic - it assigns motives to thevarious characters and follows the dramatic moods of the narration without everresorting to the "stop-and-go" method commonly found in works with anarrator. In fact, the story proved so fruitful as musical inspiration that Iwas able to make use of formal devices to illustrate the action: for instance,Maui's actual snaring of the sixteen-legged sun is set as a quicksilver fugue,in which particular notes are "caught" and held by the brass.
The piece is set as a ritual ceremony. It opens with theblowing of a conch shell and immediately proceeds to a chant-tune played byhorns and pahu drums. Following this "frame", the music follows formssuggested by the narration. Episodic sections describe Maui's earlierescapades, the sun's frantic flight over the islands (with evocativecluster-chords in the upper strings suggesting heat and blazing light), and thefantastic trip beneath the ocean in search of the magic elements needed toweave the nooses. Three related interludes called "Dreamscales"introduce the main sections: Maui's confrontation with his mother, the trip to Heleakala,and the morning following the battle with the sun. At the end of the story theopening chant returns, completing the ritual frame in a musical circle.
Haleakalā was premiered in September 1991. It wascommissioned by the Honolulu Symphony as part of the Meet the Composer OrchestraResidency Program.
Kalo: taro plant, from which poi ismade.
Luna. "the boss"; personin charge.
Elemio: Be quick! Take a chance!
Hinahina: the rare Silversword plant, which growsonly in Hawaii on the islands of Maui and Hawaii.
Prairie Light: Three Texas Watercolors of Georgia O'Keeffe(1985)
Prairie Light is based on three highly unusualwatercolors that Georgia O'Keeffe painted during her year ofteaching in Canyon, Texas in 1917. O'Keeffe is, of course, well-knownfor her expressionistic cow skulls and sensual flowers, but these threeearly works show anaïve, almost primitive sensitivity to light andshadow. I chose to place them in the order of sunrise, mid-dayand night.
The work begins with Light Coming on the Plains, whichfollows O'Keeffe's visual imagery in broad washes of orchestral color.
The painting shows a flat horizon line with outwardly expandingconcentric ovals of blue light emerging from the center, just beforesunrise. The music has a static bass line (the horizon), three extended
phrases of a constantly growing melodic line, and a sense ofexpansion and increasing warmth as the sun becomes visible.
The second section, Canyon with Crows, is more solidlygrounded. The painting shows the convolutions of the Palo Duro Canyon, withgently rolling green and red-brown hills. Above it, three childlike crowsappear, almost pasted onto the sky. The music is bubbling, bouncing andeffervescent - staccato chords of brass suggest hopping birds andanimals, and the three crows are suggested in solo lines ofclarinet, oboe and flute. As the light begins to fade, an extended passage formuted strings accompanies the farewell songs of two of the crows.
Starlight Night has a rather unorthodox (forO'Keeffe) mechanical quality. The stars are arranged in regular rows, and theyare squares and rectangles instead of points of light. Otherwise, the paintingshows the exact same vantage point as Light Coming on the Plains: the horizon,the oval sky, and the shape of the canyon rim. The music begins with a sweetnighttime flute solo, echoed by high violins. Midway through, the orchestrastops its singing and hovers, while a piano and a xylophone begin a somewhatstartling, percussive mantra - the square stars, the regularity of theuniverse. Over this gamelan-inspired pattern, the orchestra grows until aclimax is reached, with the nighttime melody combined with the sunrise melodyof the first movement. A 24-hour cycle of light has been experienced, with theevolving colors of nature as seen from a single viewpoint.
Prairie Light was commissioned by the Sherman (Texas)Symphony in celebration of its 20th anniversary season. It was first performedby that orchestra, with the composer conducting, on March 1, 1986.
Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra (1989)
Premiered by the Honolulu Symphony in October 1989, thiswork was commissioned by Bil Jackson. I had known Bil both as a symphonicclarinetist and a jazz player, so the resulting work, while not a 'jazzconcerto,' takes advantage of the checkered history of the clarinet. Cast intwo lengthy movements and scored for a rather small orchestra, it is a sort of"uptown big brother" to my 1974 Flute Concerto.
The mostly serious first movement is a Fantasia. Beginningwith odd-metered fanfares and flourishes, it gradually gives way to an elegiactheme in the high violins, and the clarinet fills in the pauses with theplunging arpeggios at which the instrument excels. Little by little the spectreof ragtime peeks around the corner, but never fully appears. The elegy themegradually emerges from the dance music, and the orchestra swells back intoprominence. The fanfares from the opening reappear, but in a 2/4 meter. The fanfarebecomes a repetitive little machine over which the clarinet is allowed to singtwo echo-phrases of the elegy b