“Every tree in the countryside said to me – Holy, Holy, who could express it all?” Though it was Beethoven who made this statement more than 200 years ago, its sentiment is not lost on composers of today. The evocative powers of nature have been a source of inspiration for composers ranging from Handel to Bartok to the chair of Eastman’s Composition Department, Robert Morris. The second part of a projected three-part work designed to be performed outside, Morris’ latest composition, “Coming Down to Earth” was written to evoke the peace, calm, stability and beauty of nature. Written for four-part ensemble, two keyboards, two percussionists, two CD recordings and three soloists, the piece may be played by as few as 12 musicians, as well as a group as large as an orchestra. “Anyone who plays an instrument can find a part in this piece,” Morris said. Highly improvisatory in nature, the piece is divided into 50 one-minute sections, each with specific names to suggest its character. According to Morris, “Both flow and juxtaposition characterize the sections – some sections are continuous and homogeneous; others are divided into clear and contrasting subsections. Some sections are full and complex, others are sparse and simple.” Consequently, each section is a self-contained musical moment that may or may not relate to other sections. This asymmetry serves to highlight the fact that nothing in nature is symmetrical or identical. The piece, however, has several unifying elements. For this piece, Morris devised a very intricate notation system that guides the performers. Like nature, however, nothing about this notation is immutable. “If a note is too low for a particular performer’s instrument or voice, they can simply move it up an octave,” Morris said.This approach, combined with the improvisatory nature of the piece makes it similar to jazz in some fashions. Morris says his score can be thought of as a jazz lead sheet, in that it has overall structure and the majority of the notes are clearly delineated, but in performance many things can change. Harmonically, the piece is based on a six-note chord that changes by only one note from section to section. Perhaps representing the ever-evolving qualities of nature, the piece can be heard as one long chord progression that demonstrates each of the 50 possibilities for six-note chords, from the most diatonic to the most chromatic. To fully unify the ensemble, the work calls for two conductors. While this music could not be described as meditative or new age, it also cannot be described as concert music that is performed outside. Morris says that while some do not like his works when they are performed in concert halls, they appreciate them much more in more relaxed environments. Being in a concert hall has serious implications for musicians and audience members, often requiring sustained concentration for both groups. In “Coming Down to Earth,” Morris has tried to erase these implications to convey a sense of relaxation, rejuvenation and spaciousness. While this is best achieved outside, the program notes indicate the piece may be performed in any relaxed, non-traditional, open space. In three performances on Oct. 3 in Webster Park, Ossia, Eastman’s student run new music ensemble, conducted by graduate conducting student Martin Seggelke and undergraduate bassoonist Christopher Jackson, will premiere the work. Featuring soloists Mark Woodyat, Heather Gardner and Kevin McFarland, the performances will take place at 1 p.m., 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. Free, all performances promise to be different from one another, in keeping with the asymmetry that is inherent in nature. Audience members are encouraged to bring blankets or something to sit on and arrive at least 20 minutes before the performances. For more information and driving directions, visit http://www.esm.rochester.edu/rdm/cdte/.Haynes can be reached email@example.com.
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