Origins

Saturday, October 5, 2019 • 7:30 p.m.
First Free Methodist Church (3200 3rd Ave W)

Orchestra Seattle
Seattle Chamber Singers
William White, conductor

Program

Carlos Garcia (*1989)
Fanfare [world premiere]

Darius Milhaud (1892–1974)
La Création du monde, Op. 81a

— intermission —

Carol Sams (*1945)
The Earthmakers

Program Notes

Carol Sams
The Earthmakers

Carol Sams was born November 25, 1945, in Sacramento, California. She composed this oratorio in 1986 with support from the King County Arts Commission (now 4Culture). George Shangrow conducted Orchestra Seattle (then the Broadway Symphony), the Seattle Chamber Singers and the Northwest Boychoir in the first performance on November 17, 1987, at Meany Hall. OSSCS reprised the work in 1990 and again in 2004, when the composer revised the orchestration. In addition to 8 vocal soloists, chorus and children's chorus, the score calls for pairs of woodwinds (including piccolo, English horn and bass clarinet, plus alto saxophone), 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, large percussion battery (bass drum, snare drum, marimba, virbaphone, temple blocks, tom-toms, wood block, triangle, tambourine, suspended cymbal, güiro, bamboo wind chimes, glass wind chimes, chimes, cowbell, steins, rocks, hose, finger cymbals, sandpaper block, rattle and log drum), synthesizer and strings.

The Earthmakers begins and ends in darkness. The opening introductory section starts with the words “Sometimes at night” and the work closes with the poetry of Galway Kinnell: “half my life belongs to the wild darkness.” Wildness and darkness frame the oratorio, just as they frame the imagination of storytellers, adventurers, the curious and the creative. Between the wild and dark is a collection of mythic tales and poetry from diverse cultures, with the work of contemporary poets interspersed. The myths are panoramic: cosmic and objective. The poems are close-ups: subjective, detailed, particular, intense. Each illumines the other.

The music does the same thing. Smaller orchestral groups typically accompany the poems, with one sung a cappella in order to lend it an intimate feeling. The myths employ a variety compositional techniques that mirror the essential character of each story.

The “Father Raven” story is improvisational in character — as if the storyteller were making it up as he goes along — and contains a story within a story. Likewise, the music is improvisational in style and contains a contrasting middle section framed by a bass solo. The “God Who Laughed Seven Times” story has seven, contrasting, illustrative sections, each described differently by the music, with a recurrent laugh holding them together. In this myth particularly, the music creates sound pictures. A tentative, curling sound in the high violins depicts light, lonely and delicate like some small thing in the dark cosmos. An aleatoric chorus and woodwinds evoke water as ripples, a wave action. When bitterness appears (the dark sound of male voices with with solo baritone), the images become much more subjective.

The third myth is the story of Naareau, divided into two sections. In the first, Naareau creates a woman, Nei Teakea (depicted by a Polynesian dance — graceful, tonal and rhythmic), and a man, Na Atibu (described by a timpani solo). Their lying together creates Naareau the Younger. The father makes a toy for his son, which turns out to be the world. But in order for the son to play with his toy, he must open the world, which is like a rock. Here a cappella chorus interrupts the myth narrative, singing “Go inside a stone,” the intimacy of the unaccompanied voices comparing the discovery of a new world with self-discovery. The final section of Naareau’s myth introduced people in to the world, and invites the audience to sing along.

The Big Bang theory and the Zuni Indian myth share several common elements. To present them as if they were the same ideas from different sides of the brain, the Zuni myth features wide vocal leaps and an unstable tonality, while the Big Bang theory is spoken in a pompous manner by a stuffy university professor who becomes carried away by the poetry in his own concepts and begins to sing. These two images occur at the same time, and comment on each other.

The oratorio comes to a close with a final, intimate, personal invocation to those particular creative powers of darkness within all of us.