Friday, April 11, 2008

Fingal's Cave

I premiered my chamber piece, Fingal's Cave: the Space between Sacred and Secular, on Satuday, Sept. 30, in the Yale Center for British Art. The ensemble was comprised of a woodwind quintet and a string quartet. The program notes follow: Dedicated to Amy Meyers, in celebration of the collaboration of our "arts." Fingal's Cave - A Space Between Sacred and Secular This piece is based on the 1832 painting by J.M.W. Turner Staffa - Fingal's Cave. This painting depicts the ethereal basalt promontory that houses Fingal's Cave, as seen from the sea during rather windy or stormy weather, with a steam boat close to the cave. Poised just off the coast of the island of Staffa is a steamboat - a paddleboat - indistinct in its presence from the background water. Its engine fire appears as a point of red. This painting presents the dialectic between the sacred, and perhaps ancient, presence that embodies or radiates from the cave, and the empirical forces of the humans and their boat that approach the cave from the sea. Sea and boat, sacred and secular, light and darkness, mystical rapture and the unsettling storminess of the water, Apollonian and Dionysian all reflect the symbiosis of spiritual and concrete matters. This music is constructed to reflect that dialectic, which conforms roughly to the attributes of the hemispheres of the brain - affective versus cognitive. One can hear the people here and there sometimes reveling in Scottish or English folk music, sometimes singing, sometimes invoking (hymns, ancient shofar calls). One can hear the Cave timeless, ethereal, romantically unfocused, pure, crystalline. Each element has its own meter and where the spaces between the sacred and secular are held in common, the meters are presented simultaneously. (The conductor presents a different meter in each hand sharing common downbeats As humans are contra-laterally designed, the affective properties of the right hemisphere of the brain are reflected in the meters of the left hand, and the classical cognitive properties of the left hemisphere of the brain appear in the music directed by the right hand.) Lines blur, just as in the painting. This painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1832 and was cited as "one of the most perfect expressions of the romanticism style of art." It was Turner's first painting to go to the United States but remained unsold for 13 years. James Lennox, who bought the painting through a broker, expressed his disappointment with this purchase by saying the painting was "indistinct" in its execution. When Turner heard this his reply was "You should tell him that indistinctness is my forte."


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