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Feb 16, 17, 2019
Santa Barbara Symphony Orchestra perform Joseph Schwantner's Chasing Light...
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Notes on the Program by Dr. Richard E. Rodda

Chasing Light ... (2008)

Joseph Schwantner composed Chasing Light... in 2008 as part of the Ford Made in America

a partnership program of the League of American Orchestras and Meet The Composer. He wrote of it, “One

of the special pleasures of living in rural New Hampshire is experiencing the often brilliant and intense

early morning sunrises, reminding one of Thoreau’s words, ‘Morning is when I am awake and there is a

dawn in me’ (Walden). Chasing Light...draws its spirit, energy and inspiration from the celebration of

vibrant colors and light that penetrate the morning mist as it wafts through the trees in the high New

England hills. Like a delicate dance, those images intersected with a brief original poem that helped fire

my musical imagination.

Chasing Light ...

Beneath the sickle moon,

sunrise ignites daybreak’s veil

Calliope’s rainbowed song

cradles heaven’s arc

piercing shadowy pines,

a kaleidoscope blooms

morning’s embrace

confronts the dawn

Each movement’s subtitle is associated with a pair of lines from the poem.

"Sunrise Ignites Daybreak’s Veil " (Con forza, feroce con bravura) opens with an introduction containing

three forceful and diverse ideas presented by full orchestra: (1) a low rhythmic and percussive pedal point

followed by (2) a three-note triplet figure in the brass overlaid by (3) a rapid swirling cascade of arch-like

upper woodwind phrases cast in a stretto-like texture [i.e., close imitative entries]. These primary elements

form the melodic, harmonic and rhythmic materials developed in the work.

“Calliope’s Rainbowed Song" (Lontano [distantly]). The rapid, arched woodwind phrases in the

introduction to the first movement occur in a variety of divergent contexts throughout the work. Cast in an

arch-like palindrome form, this movement begins softly, first with solo clarinet followed by a repeated

piano sonority that forms the structure of a theme played by solo flute. Gradually, this theme builds to an

exuberant midpoint, followed by sections that appear in reverse order, finally ending quietly and gently

with solo clarinet and an ethereal violin harmonic that carries over to the third movement.

“A Kaleidoscope Blooms" (Lacrimoso [tearfully]), a slow, expressive and elegiac movement for

oboe, opens with a low, dark repeated pedal note played by piano, contrabass and gong. Sudden rapid

woodwind gestures contrast and frame a succession of gradually ascending oboe phrases that

accumulate ever-greater urgency as the music approaches its maximum intensity at the end.

“Morning’s Embrace Confronts the Dawn" (Lontano...leggiero [lightly].) The rapid and aggressive

woodwind phrases in the first movement now emerge in delicate and shimmering string textures. These

earlier elements prepare for a stately but urgent chorale theme that builds forcefully to the palindromic

music of the third movement, the introductory materials of the first, and a final climactic conclusion.