Dos Visiones —2004

Dos Visiones was commissioned by the American Composers Forum Continental Harmony Project for the Long Beach Symphony Orchestra and the Orquestra Sinfónica Nacional De Mexico, Enrique Arturo Diemecke, Conductor. The work was premiered in the Palacio de Bellas Artes by the Orquestra Sinfónica Nacional de Mexico in Mexico City.

Program Notes

Dos Visiones (Two Visions) was inspired by the paintings and sculptures in the Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) in Long Beach, CA. Composer Ana Lara and I uncovered common themes among the artworks that have inspired music on the subjects of Magic & Dreams, Humor, and Self Portraiture & Nationalism. Our individual movements reflect our particular perspectives on Mexican and American cultures, their apparent differences on the surface, and the subtle similarities that lie beneath. My three movements are “The Magician of the Rain,” “Bearded Woman,” and “Self Portrait with Roots.”

Much of the MOLAA collection is representational as opposed to abstract art. In my movements, representation is symbolized by melodic quotations (some familiar, some not) from American and European songs. The folk music woven into the fabric of my compositions has several layers of meaning to me (emotional, political, intellectual, and spiritual) that I hope each listener will feel free to interpret in a personal way.

“The Magician of the Rain” begins and ends with the Native American “Zuni Sunrise Song,” sung offstage by a women’s choir. The orchestra provides a hazy atmosphere, then picks up and develops the sunrise song with various soloists.  As the movement gathers momentum, European-American songs enter in various guises, at times subtly and reverently, at other times brashly.  Among the quotations are “Funeral Dirge on the Death of George Washington” (Peter A. von Hagen, 1799), “Doublings of Johnson’s Troops” (Giles Gibbs, Jr., 1777), and “Soldier’s Joy,” (Captain George Bush’s notebook, c. 1779).

In Latin American literature, the use of magical events in a real setting (magical realism) was often a reaction to attacks on the native culture by invading Europeans. In “The Magician of the Rain” Native American music establishes the natural world (from offstage, as if from a culture vanquished), before becoming the foundation music for the Western orchestra on-stage. Later, various birdcalls (percussion and flutes) represent the music of the natural world co-existing with man-made music. The line between the music of the living and the music of the dead, or the natural world and the man-made, is blurred.

At the end of the movement, parts of the orchestra play different early American hymn tunes, layered over one another without drama, so as to seem ordinary. This collage stops abruptly, revealing the “Zuni Sunrise Song” once more. The listener may choose between contradictory understandings of the ending, having been left with a mysterious sense of the relatedness of opposites, rather than with a clear single memory of the journey.

In keeping with the surreal and satirical humor that often pervades the MOLAA collection, “Bearded Woman” quotes some of my favorite children’s songs (and some of my daughter’s favorites) and treats them with playful irreverence.  I’ve taken an ironic approach here and the intended meaning of the words used is given an opposite musical treatment: the wheels on the bus aren’t round and they don’t always go; you might be rowing your boat but you’re sinking; Mary’s little lamb does a burlesque number; and rather than twinkle, the stars are foreboding. Late in the movement, Ana Lara’s “Fantasia en el Circo (Fantasy at the Circus)” suddenly enters and has a closing conversation with my music.

“Self Portrait with Roots” is cubist, existing almost entirely of snippets and transformations of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” My early attempt to create original music that served either as a self-portrait in music or as a portrait of our nation seemed to me incongruous with how I understand the formation of personal and national identity, the two themes of “Self Portrait with Roots.” Rather than creating ourselves anew either as individuals or as a nation, we constantly adapt fragments from our previous experiences. My “self portrait” is therefore constructed out of the raw materials of my national anthem—my attempt to look through the kaleidoscope of my past and beneath it into the soil where those roots took hold.  At the climax of the movement, “The Star-Spangled Banner” is cut-off before completion, transformed into the Zuni Sunrise song.