Commissioned by Czech Philharmonic, Tonhalle-Gesellschaft Zürich AG, Gewandhausorchester Leipzig and the National Symphony Orchestra, Washington D.C., Gianandrea Noseda – Music Director.
Dedicated to Semyon Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic.
Unavailable for performance.
During the pandemic of 2019–2021, with most of the world shut down and concerts cancelled, I thought a lot about the impermanence of so many things that we imagine to be eternal. An orchestra can sometimes seem like the most lasting form of performance: every major city has an orchestra and the masterpieces they perform seem like eternal pillars of our culture. But what if those orchestras never played again? What if these great works of art become but mere echoes, gradually fading in our memory? These are the thoughts I had during this year when the orchestras fell silent and the musicians and audiences stayed home. At the outer reaches of our memory would the sounds of those works combine into a kind of woven tapestry of fragments and recollections? Could it all slow down into a beautiful aquatic drone? I thought about how the act of composing, conjuring sounds from one’s mind or imagination, is very similar to this feeling. A kind of reverence for a world of music we have shared, how memories combine into something original, a spark of creativity or imagination or a dialogue with something that came before. Semyon Bychkov, for whom this piece is written and dedicated, lives just minutes from me on the Basque coast of France, but we did not see each other for several months during the pandemic. On many long walks through these beautiful forests and mountains I imagined him reflecting on those great pieces in his own vast repertoire and how the sounds of the forest and the quiet of the beautiful natural world might intertwine with his own musical memories. My orchestral composition, Mari, is a reflection on the pastoral, and it weaves together several textures and fragments of material from historic works through a kind of abstraction and altered context to something new, most audibly a melody from the first movement of the New World Symphony by Dvorak and textures from the 4th movement of Mahler’s sublime Symphony No. 3. My work is named after the Basque goddess of the forest, Mari.
As a concert opener, it felt appropriate to let these notes pass through my fingers and open a new doorway through which my own voice could emerge. The music of Dvorak and Mahler feels timeless but also distinctly modern, especially now as we emerge again into a new world and listen for what comes next.
© Bryce Dessner