We were sitting in a cabin at Coal Creek, deep in the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve and miles away from anything so much as a road. Rain and mosquitoes took turns at keeping us indoors.
Cassie To, the other Aussie in the group, got out her laptop, and I had a listen to Ostara's Equinox...
At the start, all is still and dark. Clarinets provide a kind of soil-bed for the piece, an empty garden plot of A-flat major. And into this the flutes plant a little seed of music - just three notes, close together and very quiet...
It grows in strength, it grows in size, but most of all it grows in energy. More and more instruments come in, the tempo gradually increases, and that three-note flute motif begins to proliferate all around the orchestra. I love how easy that motif is to spot, and yet at the same time how thick and complex the music becomes. Soon it's like the dense foliage of a tree, where all the individual leaves are more or less the same, but together they create an elaborate pattern of beautifully messy greenness.
The spacious stillness of the opening is replaced by a forward-leaning rhythm as the music gradually accumulates an almost unstoppable momentum. By the end, the seed has grown into a huge tree. The last thing we hear is that opening flute motif, now full-grown on the trumpets...
As I listened to this at Coal Creek, I thought about the abundance of life that was all around us. Like many people, I went to Alaska thinking of white, snowy landscapes with very little life. But that's only one side of the story – the winter side, when there is ice everywhere, and barely any sun. A completely different side of Alaska is seen during the summer – the Yukon flows swiftly, the sunlight is constant, and there is so much green, so much life, all around.
How does one become the other? Ostara's Equinox charts the journey beautifully, from darkness to light.
It was written well before either of us had been to Alaska, but in my memory it is now associated with that cabin at Coal Creek, and the feeling of life's massive, ongoing presence in the spruce forest just outside the door.
Cassie wrote this for a workshop with the Sydney Conservatorium Wind Symphony a few years ago, and the recording (above) was made in a 30-minute reading session. But this weekend I'm honoured to be conducting its world premiere – the Adelaide Wind Orchestra will be performing it as the opening piece of our concert 'Aurora Awakes', and we've had much more time to prepare! Further details and tickets are available here.
The concert was a success, and now there is a performance recording available to listen to online!