MEIRA WARSHAUER: “Living Breathing Earth” = Symphony No. 1 ‘Living Breathing Earth’; Tekeeyah (a call) – Haim Avitsur, shofar & trombone/ Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra/Petr Vronsky – Navona Records NV5842, 50:58(Distr. by Naxos) ****:
Here are two wonderfully eclectic new works for orchestra that I found highly creative and fun to listen to—that would almost certainly appeal to folks who do not ordinarily follow contemporary orchestral music.
All credit goes to composer Meira Warshauer, a new name for me, for creating vivid and attention getting music such as these. Warshauer graduated from Harvard University, the New England Conservatory of Music and the University of South Carolina and studied composition with Mario Davidovsky, Jacob Druckman, William Thomas McKinley, and Gordon Goodwin. A native of Wilmington, North Carolina, she resides in Columbia, South Carolina. Warshauer has received awards from ASCAP, Meet the Composer, and the American Music Center; and Residency Fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and the Hambidge Center. She has served on the faculties of Columbia College, University of South Carolina Honors College, and as the Nancy A. Smith Distinguished Visitor at Coastal Carolina University. A lot of her music does seem to show a devotion to nature and a respect for the earth. Her “Symphony #1, ‘Living Breathing Earth’ “, is truly a sort of New Age eco-statement. The four movements in this captivating work each make sonic reference to sounds from her upbringing and career in the Carolinas as well as a kind of symphonic “position paper” on caring for the environment.
The opening movement, “Call of the Cicadas”, is vivid in its depiction of the chattering of the insects on a warm, humid southern night with both annoying and lovable feelings toward the din reflected in the music. This contrasts with the placid beauty of the second movement, “Tahuayo River at Night” (actually a reference to a Peruvian rainforest) and its rocking strings and gorgeous wind solo elements. This segues nicely into “Wings at Flight” and the imagery of butterflies and birds flitting about above the waters. The work closes with the majestic yet mysterious “Living Breathing Earth”. Patterns of five are discernible in the orchestra and the composer’s notes indicate that – as some of the living things depicted in preceding movements return – the movement pays homage to the whole earth as it rotates. A beautiful piece that will hold meaning for some; nostalgia for others, this is a wholly attractive score with delicate colors and lovely melodies and serves as a kind of neo-Romantic soundtrack to nature and not shy in its appeal.
“Tekeeyah” (a call) is an example of the other thematic element that finds its way into Warshauer’s music often – her Jewish heritage. In Jewish religious and ceremonial tradition, the shofar (from a ram’s horn) is sounded as a call to wake up the soul of the individual. In this fascinating piece, the call is intended to represent a call to awareness of all people to their surroundings, to themselves and in response to events in the modern world. Conceptually this is a deep, meditative platform to build a piece on. From solely a musical point of view, this too is a beautiful, almost transcendental work. The three sections of the work – ‘ a call’, ‘breaking walls’ and ‘dance of truth’ – represent what the composer calls shifts in the process of awakening. The opening is quiet with long lines, a sense of the pastoral with the shofar playing an important but somewhat distant role. The second begins quietly but bursts with tone color and solo trombone and, later, the shofar contributing to a sense of alarm. This music pulses nervously along; leading to the concluding ‘dance of truth’ in which a very celebratory dance is played by the trombone, accented by mallets and strings and climaxing with some punctuated blasts on the shofar. This is a very exciting piece with moments of great tranquility that ought to have some appeal to people of Jewish heritage as well as anyone interested in compelling new orchestral music.
I was alltogether impressed with this disc! Meira Warshauer is a wonderful composer with a tonal, emotional melodic and harmonic vocabulary that reminded in spots of Jennifer Higdon and I find her music to be refreshing and revealing. I was not familiar with her before this but – once again – credit Navona and the whole Parma group for finding exciting lesser known composers with exciting things to say. In reading Meira’s website all of her works, frankly, sound wonderful! I would love to hear more of her orchestral works in particular. These are terrific pieces that deserve to be performed more often. The Moravian Philharmonic under Petr Vronsky plays with verve and conviction.
— Daniel Coombs
A “…first choice for a gift to any lover of classical music”…