Preview: Ashes into Light

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In the past year, I’ve moved twice — once across town in Eugene, Oregon and the next to Seattle — started a new job, launched an ensemble (Yay Sound of Late!), volunteered for a local political campaign, and struggled to balance everything else with writing music.

It’s been a busy 365 days.

If you’re like me, and I suspect you might be to some degree, you try to minimize big changes in your life. We all love familiar things. They feel cozy and safe. With all the recent changes in my life, however, things have not been especially predictable. I think that’s why I find the music on our next concert so inspiring.

The six composers we’re featuring — Eve Beglarian, Vivian Fine, Robert Kyr, Michael Norris, Augusta Reed Thomas and Evan Williams — all draw their inspiration from change and transformation. They aren’t hemmed in by the traditions of the past and they’re also not frozen by fear of the future. They responded to the very concept of change by creating the amazing and original works you’ll hear at our next concert.

Eve Beglarian

Eve Beglarian’s rich and mysterious soundscape created with horn and electronics in Einhorn evokes a mystical experience – a cavernous sonic structure whose spatial elements reflect ritual and inspire awe. Beglarian was inspired by a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke, which you can read on her website. Writing about the piece, Beglarian describes it as an experience wherein “love creates a space in which the impossible becomes real.”

Vivian Fine

Vivian Fine, the composer of The Flicker, writes about the quintessential woodpecker of the Pacific Northwest. Fine provides a translation of the flicker’s song, which she notated while observing the bird through a window. As the piece progresses, the flutist is drawn further into the music until the bird is conjured into the concert space with the final gesture.

Robert Kyr

Our concert takes its name from Robert Kyr’s work, Ashes into Light. Kyr, who is the Philip K. Knight Professor of Composition at the University of Oregon, adapted the piece from his Symphony No. 10, “Ah Nagasaki: Ashes into Light.” Written in 2005 and arranged for chamber ensemble in 2009, the piece is a meditation on the atomic bombing of Nagasaki in 1945. The music is a guide through the realm of tragedy to the beginning of the healing process.

Michael Norris

Blindsight by New Zealand composer Michael Norris takes its name from a condition in which a patient cannot “see” visual stimuli, and yet the body instintively senses and reacts to them. The music contrasts two instrumental pairs — winds versus strings — with the jarring anchor of the piano. Blended harmonics and shifting textures create a listening game for the audience: are you really hearing what you think you are?

Augusta Read Thomas

Augusta Read Thomas brings an original approach to the concept of change in her piece, Silent Moon. Choosing instead to capture the moment of change itself, Thomas evokes an expansive sonic world in which we are simultaneously looking backward and forward. In her program notes, Thomas writes, “A silent moon exists in the deep silence of winter earth after the solstice celebration heralding the birth of energy and the return of ever lengthening daylight.”

Evan Williams

In his work Grime, Evan Williams transforms a string quartet into a moaning, screaming electric guitar. The piece evolves from a shivering, unison G towards a screeching cacophony before breaking into a surprising, minimalist-inspired finale.

Final Thoughts

The composers featured here represent just a sample of the diverse, creative and inspiring ways musicians engage with change. You might not be familiar with all of them, or any of them, and that’s ok. I hope you find them as transforming as I have.

Reserve your tickets for Ashes into Light on Sunday, February 21st at 7:30 p.m. at The Old Church in Portland.

Andrew Stiefel
Andrew Stiefel is a composer, violist, and field recordist whose music explores the intersections between written and recorded sound.