Nostalgia, a fast ride, and the feeling of the sea are on the program Nov. 17
By Peter Alexander Nov. 15 at 2:10 p.m.
Everyone thinks of home as Thanksgiving approaches.
As it happens, “Home” is the subject of the next concert by the Boulder Symphony, but despite the time of year, it is not about the holidays. The title refers to one of the pieces on the program, a new work by Sarah Kirkland Snider. The title, Hiraeth, is an untranslatable Welsh word that encompasses nostalgia for home, as well as longing and sadness.
Devin Patrick Hughes, conductor of the Boulder Symphony, first heard Snider’s music when it was played by the Detroit Symphony. “Snider is a really active composer,” he says. “She’s very young but at the same time she’s already been played around the world.”
Snider is currently in Boulder visiting the College of Music at CU.
In addition to Snider’s 26-minute piece, the program will also include John Adams’s Short Ride in a Fast Machine, an energetic and stimulating concert opener that has practically become a staple of major orchestras’ repertoire since its premiere in 1986; and one of the best known works for orchestra, Debussy’s La Mer, a three-movement evocation of the sea.
Snider grew up in Princeton, New Jersey, but she wrote Hiraeth when she received a commission from the North Carolina Symphony to write a piece about her family’s historic ties to the state. Her conception of the piece took a darker turn when her father—her living connection to North Carolina—died suddenly after she received the commission.
“My musical ideas were now refracted through the lens of grief,” she writes in her program notes for the score. “The material grew darker, my thinking about the piece more complex. . . . Ultimately, Hiraeth is both elegy and personal meditation, steeped in the hazy, half-recollected textures and sensations that surround a memory.” (You may read her full program notes here.)
Snider’s score was originally conceived as a partner to a film score. The Boulder Symphony will not show the film, but Hughes believes the music stands well on its own. “I don’t think you need anything to go with it,” he says. “It’s very episodic, it’s very operatic. She brings you into this world and doesn’t let you out—in a good way!”
Hughes says that the Adams fanfare was selected specifically to introduce the Snider piece. “We were, ‘Well, what do you need to get home, fast?’” he says. “You couldn’t be more descriptive in the title [as to] exactly what it’s about. It literally takes you on that ride.”
The Adams score is fast and exciting—and more difficult than it sounds, he says. “John Adams is notoriously difficult in that he sounds so easy, but it’s funny how the simpler you get, sometimes the most difficulty enters with the precision that is needed. It’s hard for the brass placing the rhythms, and especially getting it up to the speed that Adams is asking for.”
The first half of the concert follows the theme of “Home,” but that idea is not evident in La Mer. Hughes says that the concert “needs to have a theme, but then you have the artistic side. You want all the music to be able to stand on its own merits.” And the Debussy, he adds, does fit into the program in a specifically musical way.
“This program is all about precision,” he says. “Debussy has this ethereal, elusive, cloudy, unfocused quality musically, because it’s French and it’s picture painting, but to make that happen, it needs the utmost precision. The colors don’t happen until you line it up, which is easier said than done”.
Because of the “unfocused quality” of the music not everyone hears the same thing in La Mer. Some people may hear the waves, others might hear the wind passing over the sea, and some might not hear the sea at all, but that’s all right with Hughes. “That’s what makes [the music] so great,” he says. “It can mean anything to anybody.
“Debussy is not trying to create sights or sounds. He’s evoking how he feels from the ocean.” And of course, evoking those feelings still requires the precision Hughes was talking about. “It’s a challenge,” he says.
“We’ve done Mahler and full operas and [Stravinsky’s] Rite of Spring, but I’d say this is our most challenging concert.”
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Boulder Symphony, Devin Patrick Hughes, conductor
7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 17
First Presbyterian Church, 1820 15thSt., Boulder
John Adams: A Short Ride in a Fast Machine
Sarah Kirkland Snider: Hiraeth (Colorado Premiere)
Debussy: La Mer