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Wednesday
May022012

Whoop for Your Life!

The recorded excerpt is performed by the Polish Radio and TV Symphony Orchestra of Krakow; Jose Maria Florencio, conductor.

Whoop for Your Life!
for orchestra

Duration: 15'
1987

Instrumentation: 3333, 4331 + baritone horn,piano,harp,timpani,3 percussion, strings

"Whoop for Your Life!" shows explores the dynamic created when seemingly irreconcilable points of view are combined---in this case, a festive character of celebration is asserted in the shadow of impending disaster. To symbolize this contradiction, I invoke the music of Brazil: vibrant life-affirming music from a country where the rain forests are being destroyed at a catastrophic rate. The title refers to a visit to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge (Texas) in 1986, where I watched the last of the Whooping Cranes going about their business---feeding, courting, mating, nesting and raising young---as if they were nothing special, and not the last of a species on the edge of extinction.

The piece employs a rich musical language abstracted from various regions---from the Brazilian carnival to the Texas fiddle contest---with a healthy dose of Aransas "whooping" thrown in. This diverse material is balanced by a rigorous sonata-like organization, with nearly all the harmony and melody generated by a single chord of gradually expanding musical intervals. The chord, which first appears in the brass, gives rise to a stubborn rugged march. In contrast, a second theme---introduced by the english horn---is wild, provocative, prodding and probing, like a crane feeding. Next, a developmental section combines fragments of these themes and pits them against one another, leading eventually to a return of the opening brass chord. This hint of a recapitulation turns out to be illusory and gives rise to a new theme in the muted strings. Entirely different in character, this theme resembles a Texas fiddle tune and suggests a personal, peaceful world of fantasy and imagination. Gradually, reality intrudes, as the original themes reassert themselves with renewed vigor and propel the music forward to a cacophonous percussion quartet which coalesces into a climactic concluding section. The piece ends with a mysterious invocation of the opening chord.

This work was commissioned and premiered by the Redwood Symphony and featured at the 1991 Cabrillo Music Festival in Santa Cruz, California.

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