Instrumentation: 3 (picc).3 (eng hn).3.3. / 188.8.131.52. / 3 perc. timp. hp. / strings
Commission: NEA and The Women’s Philharmonic
The Women’s Philharmonic, JoAnn Falletta, Conductor
Festival of New American Music, California State University at Sacramento
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The title Piping the Earth derives from the ancient Chinese text Chuang Tzu. The term, in Burton Watson’s translation, refers to the many sounds created by the wind as it moves through different spaces. Yet the nature of wind remains the same. My one-movement work analogously flows from a constant harmonic background but the effect as it moves through given sound spaces changes markedly. The title also suggested harmonic pipes or poles, and the piece develops around three such fundamental structures. Piping the Earth is the result of a co-commission from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Bay Area Women’s Philharmonic. I completed a draft while in residence at the Rockefeller Foundation Study Center in Bellagio, Italy during the summer of 1990, and am grateful for that delightful residency. The winds and storms that frequently blew over Lake Cuomo were also an inspiration, as was the composition studio, tucked into the side of a hill. Piping the Earth was recorded by the Moravian Philharmonic, Joel Suben conducting and released on the Capstone label. That collection has been re-released on Parma/Ravello. –JS
“The evening’s high point came midway through the second half, with the premiere of Judith Shatin’s exuberant and captivating Piping the Earth. Vividly orchestrated and bursting with imaginative detail, the piece grabs a listener’s attention right from the opening moment, an ominous stillness in which a low wind can be heard creeping through the bassoons, cellos, and bass drum.
Shatin’s writing is rhythmically urgent (percussive outbursts punctuating the score are among the many echoes of early Stravinsky, especially The Rite of Spring) and pursues a course both logical and surprising. Evocations of the wind, for example, recur periodically, associated with a fundamental pitch, and there are other clear structural points. At the same time, there are wonderful bursts of inspiration, such as a silvery dominant-seventh chord that courses up and down like a crystal fountain through the woodwinds and strings. At nine minutes, the score is exactly proportioned but still left a listener eager for more.”
–San Francisco Chronicle
“…It hardly prepared one for the musical firestorm of ‘Piping the Earth,’ a new, one-movement work by Judith Shatin. Apparently conceived as an investigation of the way sound changes in space, the finished work does propose an active and ever-changing soundscape over a constant (if hardly static) harmonic base.”
“It also enthralls. There’s no sense of detached, solipsistic, intellectual enterprise in this work, which dazzles with its array of active sound surfaces and shapes. Falletta’s sure grasp of the work allowed it to take its multi-directional course with confidence about its outcome. The performance was breathtaking.”
–San Francisco Examiner