The Sea as Inspiration – Orchestral Music

The Sea as Inspiration – Orchestral Music
from The Unchanging Sea video by Bill Morrison
On January 13 2018 the MDR Symphony Orchestra will present Become Ocean by John Luther Adams and the German premiere of The Unchanging Sea, the new concerto for piano, film, and orchestra by Michael Gordon and Bill Morrison. The piano soloist of the evening is Niklas Sivelöv and the orchestra will be conducted by Kristjan Järvi in Leipzig.
This backdrop is the scene for an exciting dialogue between the sea and mankind, which we gladly explore further in a wide range of compositions with the sea as inspiration.
– Man and the Sea  –  
The Unchanging Sea – Michael Gordon (2016, 21')
Michael Gordon and filmmaker Bill Morrison created The Unchanging Sea based on the material in the movie from 1910 by D.W. Griffiths, which portrays the relationship between people and the sea. Gordon is able to put the sound of waves so convincingly on music, that the listener imagines himself in the immediate vicinity of the sea. Score | Interview
Poems of the Sea – Ernest Bloch (1922, 12')
In Poems Of The Sea, Ernst Bloch presents different interpretations of coping with the sea: a physical description of the sea in the first movement Waves, a cultural-romantic interpretation of the sea in the sailor song Chanty, and the third movement At Sea Bloch focuses on the economic importance of the sea. Score | Listening
– The Mysterious Sea –  
Become Ocean – John Luther Adams (2013, 42')
John Luther Adams focuses on the enigmatic sea and the meaning this has for Dasein in Become Ocean. This existentialist approach is an intensive sound meditation on the 'tides of existence' and the consequential reality of the melting polar ice caps with which humankind is confronted: 'once again we may quite literally become ocean'. (John Luther Adams) Score | Trailer

Violent, Violent Sea – Missy Mazzoli (2011, 9')
Similar to Become Ocean, Violent, Violent Sea also sets the power of the sea to music. Missy Mazzoli, however, does not compose with massive soundscapes like Adams, but with a melodic flow of strong emotions. Score | Listen
– 'La Mer' by Debussy as Interdisciplinary Inspiration –  
Tales of a Summer Sea – Betsy Jolas (1977, 15')
With Tales of A Summer Sea, the French composer Betsy Jolas continues the current tradition of symbolism-inspired music. Similar to Debussy, who idealized his symphonic poem La Mer to the movements of the sea, she tries to impress the listener with a sensory experience. Score
Sea Vocalisms – Theodor Grigoriu (1992, 32')
Sea Vocalisms by Theodor Grigoriu is influenced by Debussy as well: the composition consists of 24 dynamic series, all which characterize the work as an arc from silence, to storm, to a final calmness.
The musical material is composed of an undulating series of wave-like semitones: 1 - 2 - 3 - 2 - 1 - 2 - 3 - 2 - 1 - 2 - 3 - 2. For Grigoriu, this circular structure of 24 dynamic series and the series of semitones show the sea as one of the rare practical examples of the concept of infinity. This work therefore represents a very specific interpretation of the sea, one that starts out of nature and the representation of the universe.
– References to Architecture and Poetry –  
Wing on Wing – Esa-Pekka Salonen (2004, 27')
Wing on Wing is a musical tribute to the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and its renowned architect Frank O. Gehry. Gehry describes the building, viewed from a certain perspective, as 'wing on wing'. Originally, this concept is derived from the sailing terminology and describes a 180-degree arrangement of the foresail and the main sail so that the sails are optimally used in a forward course. 'This beautiful sculptural constellation is called "wing on wing" '. (Salonen) The musical material for this piece is very varied: besides metaphors for wind and water, Esa-Pekka Salonen uses the 'singing' of the local fish, sampling the voice of Gehry and letting two solo coloratura sopranos traverse the composition. Score | Listen
Amers – Kaija Saariaho (1992, 20')
With Amers, inspired by the collection of poetry by the Nobel laureate Saint-John Perse of the same name, Kaija Saariaho creates a very personal tribute to the sea. 'Amers' is the French word for buoys. Starting from this image, Saariaho designs the cello solo, which navigates between the buoys in the concert as 'a sailor charting a course through a sea of sounds'. (Peter Szenby). Score | Listen
– With Chorus –  
Remembering the Sea – Aaron Jay Kernis (2016, 18')
Aaron Jay Kernis chose to respond in music to recent acts of terror, and asked poet Kai Hoffman-Krull to create the three texts of Remembering the Sea (Se Souvenant de la Mer): 'a dialogue between a young girl and her departed mother — memories of closeness and touch…the second a kind of Dies Irae and the third a song that asks many questions but finds no answers'. Score
Sea Elegy – Peter Maxwell Davies (1998, 16')
The Scottish Chamber Orchestra commissioned Peter Maxwell Davies on its 25th anniversary. He composed Sea Elegy, settings of four George Mackay Brown poems for SATB soli and chorus: The Sea, The Door of Water, The Lost, and A Drowning. 'This is brooding northern music, at once intense, ritualistic and self-conciously monochrome. The orchestra shudders and shimmers, conjuring up a dark post-Sibelian seascape'. (Owen Leech). Score
Image: from The Unchanging Sea video by Bill Morrison

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