Eclipse, for orchestra (2019)

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Winner of the 2019 James Highsmith Award.

Duration: ca. 8’

To be premiered by the San Francisco Conservatory Orchestra in the upcoming 2019 - 20 academic year.

 

notes…

August 21, 2017 marked one of the most transformative experiences of my life. At exactly 9:07:35 AM Pacific Standard Time, in the desolate Warm Springs Indian Reservation in Oregon, my friends and I began to perceive a sliver of a shadow of  the Moon overtaking the right uppermost corner of the Sun. Like the millions of spectators surrounding us, we had traveled hundreds of miles to witness this historic event: the first total solar eclipse visible across the whole contiguous United States since June 8, 1918, and the first total eclipse visible from anywhere on the mainland United States since February 26, 1979.

Yet what struck me most was how deeply spiritual and cosmic the experience felt. Few events in recent memory brought so many millions of people together from across our country and around the world for a shared experience. Regardless of race, gender, sexuality, disability, religion, or political affiliations, all of us who chose to witness what was named the "Great American Eclipse" did so out of a sense of awe and wonderment at the magnificent forces that make up our solar system. While the eclipse would gradually unfold over two and a half hours, the actual moment of totality, from our vantage point, took place for just a minute and a half, from 10:20:10 AM - 10:21:41 AM Pacific Time. How remarkable that so many people came together for just that brief moment in time.

What also made this eclipse unique was the advent of smartphone technology and social media which afforded each of us enormous potential to share our experiences with each other. To that extent, I am indebted to a dear friend of mine who captured some truly spectacular photos of the event, one of which is shown above. While the vivid memory of this experience would remain my primary inspiration for this piece, these photos served a crucial role in my conception of the work's structure.

I wanted to convey musically both the cosmic forces at play and the spiritual relationship we all felt towards these forces. The initial theme presented represents the force of the Sun, with all its light, vigor, and effulgent energy. A second theme which is more intimate in nature represents the force of the Moon. Because the Moon is a non-luminous object, this theme begins rather hushed and only builds gradually as it begins to collide with the energy of the solar forces. The human being as spectator is represented by a third theme that evolves directly from the lunar forces that precede it, first introduced by solo cello within an imitative winds texture.

Ultimately, this third theme is expanded upon in a brass flourish, delivering us to the moment of totality and confirming the essential role of the spectator: that no matter how inconsequential we may feel in the cosmos as human beings, we are absolutely fundamental to the experience. Finally, just as the Moon begins pealing away to once again reveal the Sun's rays in a phenomenon known as the Baily's beads effect, the musical forces depart from each other and erupt into silence as piercing as the Sun.