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WELCHER: Haleakala / Prairie Light / Clarinet Concerto

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Dan Welcher (b.1948)

Born in Rochester, New York, in 1948, composer-conductor Dan Welcher has been gradually creating a body ofcompositions in almost every imaginable genre including opera, concerto, symphony, vocal literature, solo piano,and various kinds of chamber music. With over one hundred works to his credit, Welcher is one of the most-playedcomposers of his generation. Dan Welcher first trained as a pianist and bassoonist, earning degrees from theEastman School of Music and the Manhattan School of Music. He joined the Louisville Orchestra as its PrincipalBassoonist in 1972, and remained there until 1978, concurrently teaching composition and theory at the Universityof Louisville. He joined the Artist Faculty of the Aspen Music Festival in the summer of 1976, teaching bassoonand composition, and remained there for fourteen years. He accepted a position on the faculty at the University ofTexas in 1978, creating the New Music Ensemble there and serving as Assistant Conductor of the AustinSymphony Orchestra from 1980 to 1990. It was in Texas that his career as a conductor began to flourish, and hehas led the premi?¿res of more than 150 new works. He now holds the Lee Hage Jamail Regents Professorship inComposition at the School of Music at UT/Austin, teaching Composition and serving as Director of the NewMusic Ensemble. In 1990 he was named Composer in Residence with the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra throughthe Meet the Composer Orchestra Residencies Program. In addition to Haleakala: How Maui Snared the Sun, hehas written a 38-minute Symphony No. 1 for the Honolulu Symphony, which had its premi?¿re in 1993. More recentcommissions have come from the Boston Pops, the Utah Symphony, the Handel and Haydn Society, and theRochester Philharmonic. A pair of one-act operas on Christmas themes, Della's Gift and Holy Night, had itspremi?¿re in 2005. Dan Welcher has won numerous awards and prizes from institutions such as the GuggenheimFoundation (a Fellowship in 1997), National Endowment for the Arts, The Reader's Digest/Lila WallaceFoundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, The Bellagio Center, the AmericanMusic Center, and ASCAP. His orchestral music has been performed by more than fifty orchestras, including theChicago Symphony, the St Louis Symphony, and the Atlanta Symphony. Welcher lives in Bastrop, Texas. Hismusic is published by Theodore Presser Company.

Haleakala: How Maui Snared the Sun (1991) Prairie Light: Three Texas Watercolors ofGeorgia O' Keeffe (1985) Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra (1989)

The tone-poem Haleakala: How Maui Snared the Sunwas crafted as both a children's story and a piece ofmature contemporary music, designed to appeal onmany levels. The music, using three ancient Hawaiianchant-tunes, many authentic percussion instruments,and six Polynesian scales, is capable of standing alone,and in fact the work can be performed without narration.

The text is a highly evocative and poetic retellingof one of the most famous myths about the Polynesiandemigod Maui, known as 'the trickster.' We meet Mauiby reputation first with the recounting of two earlierlegends, and then in the story of Haleakali. Maui findshis mother weeping because the sun moves so quicklythat 'the kapa (tapa cloth) will not dry, and the kalo(taro) and sweet potatoes are withering'. Maui isdetermined to fix this, and devises a plan to entrap thesun as it enters the chasm at Haleakala, the sacredvolcano on the island that now bears Maui's name.

Once all sixteen legs (rays) of the sun have been snaredin a vigorous battle, Maui extracts a promise from thesun to go more slowly for six months of the year,creating the winter and summer seasons.

The score is almost cinematic; it assigns motives tothe various characters and follows the dramatic moodsof the narration without ever resorting to the stop-andgomethod commonly found in works with a narrator.

In fact, the story proved so fruitful as musicalinspiration that I was able to make use of formaldevices to illustrate the action: for instance, Maui'sactual snaring of the sixteen-legged sun is set as aquicksilver fugue, in which particular notes are 'caught'and held by the brass.

The piece is set as a ritual ceremony. It opens withthe blowing of a conch shell and immediately proceedsto a chant-tune played by horns and pahu drums.

Following this 'frame,' the music follows formssuggested by the narration. Episodic sections describeMaui's earlier escapades, the sun's frantic flight overthe islands (with evocative cluster-chords in the upperstrings suggesting heat and blazing light), and thefantastic trip beneath the ocean in search of the magicelements needed to weave the nooses. Three relatedinterludes called Dreamscales introduce the mainsections: Maui's confrontation with his mother, the tripto Haleakala, and the morning following the battle withthe sun. At the end of the story the opening chantreturns, completing the ritual frame in a musical circle.

Haleakala had its premi?¿re in September 1991. Itwas commissioned by the Honolulu Symphony as partof the Meet the Composer Orchestra ResidencyProgram.

Prairie Light is based on three highly unusualwatercolors that Georgia O'Keeffe painted during heryear of teaching in Canyon, Texas in 1917. O'Keeffe is,of course, well-known for her expressionistic cowskulls and sensual flowers, but these three early worksshow a naive, almost primitive sensitivity to light andshadow. I chose to place them in the order of sunrise,mid-day and night.

The work begins with Light Coming on the Plains,which follows O'Keeffe's visual imagery in broadwashes of orchestral colour. The painting shows a flathorizon line with outwardly expanding concentric ovalsof blue light emerging from the centre, just beforesunrise. The music has a static bass line (the horizon),three extended phrases of a constantly growing melodicline, and a sense of expansion and increasing warmth asthe sun becomes visible.

The second section, Canyon with Crows, is moresolidly grounded. The painting shows the convolutionsof the Palo Duro Canyon, with gently rolling green andred-brown hills. Above it, three childlike crows appear,almost pasted onto the sky. The music is bubbling,bouncing and effervescent - staccato chords of brasssuggest hopping birds and animals, and the three crowsare suggested in solo lines of clarinet, oboe and flute. Asthe light begins to fade, an extended passage for mutedstrings accompanies the farewell songs of two of thecrows.

Starlight Night has a rather unorthodox (forO'Keeffe) mechanical quality. The stars are arranged inregular rows, and they are squares and rectanglesinstead of points of light. Otherwise, the painting showsthe exact same vantage point as Light Coming on thePlains: the horizon, the oval sky, and the shape of thecanyon rim. The music begins with a sweet nighttimeflute solo, echoed by high violins. Midway through, theorchestra stops its singing and hovers, while a piano anda xylophone begin a somewhat startling, percussivemantra - the square stars, the regularity of the universe.

Over this gamelan-inspired pattern, the orchestra growsuntil a climax is reached, with the nighttime melodycombined with the sunrise melody of the firstmovement. A 24-hour cycle of light has beenexperienced, with the evolving colours of nature as seenfrom a single viewpoint.

Prairie Light was commissioned by the Sherman(Texas) Symphony in celebration of its twentiethanniversary season. It was first performed by thatorchestra, with the composer conducting, on 1st March,1986.

First given by the Honolulu Symphony in October1989, Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra wascommissioned by Bil Jackson. I had known Bil both asa symphonic clarinettis
Item number 8559287
Barcode 636943928721
Release date 01/11/2005
Label Naxos Classics
Media type CD
Number of units 1
Artists Jackson, Bill
Chamberlain, Richard
Composers Welcher, Dan
Conductors Johanos, Donald
Orchestras Honolulu Symphony Orchestra
Producers Sherman, Judith
Disc: 1
Clarinet Concerto
1 Heleakala - How Maui Snared the Sun
2 I. Light Coming On The Plains
3 II. Canyon with Crows
4 III. Starlight Night
5 I. Very Fast - Slowly - Dancing
6 II. Blues and Toccata (on the name Benny Goodman)
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