Become Ocean

SPHERE Festival - NACO Live

2022-09-24 20:00 2022-09-24 22:00 60 Canada/Eastern 🎟 NAC: Become Ocean

In-person event

We honour the voice of Mother Nature with music dedicated to the critical ecological milestones our planet faces, including two works from ground-breaking female composers Anna Clyne and Outi Tarkiainen. British composer Anna Clyne wrote Restless Oceans for Marin Alsop and the all-women Taki Concordia Orchestra for performance at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2019. In addition to playing their instruments, the musicians are called upon to use their voices in song and strong...

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Southam Hall,1 Elgin Street,Ottawa,Canada
Saturday, September 24, 2022


Last updated: September 21, 2022

OUTI TARKIAINEN Songs of the Ice
ANNA CLYNE Restless Oceans

Program Notes

Tonight’s second NACO concert of the SPHERE Festival features music inspired by and evoking the many facets of one of nature’s fundamental elements: water. Through their compelling works, the composers Outi Tarkiainen, Anna Clyne, and John Luther Adams seek to draw our attention to environmental, social, and cultural concerns close to their hearts, such as climate change and gender and racial discrimination. As John Luther Adams has put it, “If my music can inspire people to listen more deeply to this miraculous world we inhabit, then I will have done what I can as a composer to help us navigate this perilous era of our own creation.”



Songs of the Ice

Finnish composer Outi Tarkiainen says she “sees music as a force of nature, which can flood over a person and fill a person and even change entire destinies.” Her viscerally powerful music is deeply connected to her life and experience living in northernmost Finland, frequently guided by issues of environmental awareness, particularly climate change and its impacts. Recently, she has written works for large orchestra that connect these topics to that of motherhood, inspired by her own experience. These include Her Midnight Sun Variations (performed by the NAC Orchestra earlier this year in May), and the work that opens tonight’s concert, Songs of the Ice. She considers them companion pieces, though they can be performed separately.  

Tarkiainen composed Songs of the Ice in 2019, a commission for the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Iceland Symphony Orchestra. As she explains the work’s underlying themes:

Songs of the Ice is an orchestral work about ice. In the Arctic region, the ice breathes with the seasons, swelling in winter and shrinking in summer. Its age-old movement sings a song of its own: slowly surging, unrelenting and covering all beneath it. It tinkles and rumbles, squeaks and laments as our ever-warmer climate breaks Nature’s time-honoured laws, forcing the ice to give way.

When I composed the piece, I was expecting our second child, due to be born in the heart of winter when the bitter cold strengthens the ice, making it powerful and solid again, and I was physically reminded of the weeks and months after the birth of our first-born. Songs of the Ice also describes the emptiness and reclosing process that begins in a woman’s body when she parts company with the life inside her in giving birth. The piece is dedicated to the Okjökull glacier, declared dead in 2014 and Iceland’s first victim of climate change.

The work begins with the rumbling sound of ice: the orchestra attacks with waves each stronger than the last that finally break and shatter into clear crystals. Reverberating through the empty space are wailing wind solos, the soul of the ice—a big man’s lament that is gradually compressed by his anguish into warning cries from the piccolos. At last the strings bring consolation: over the landscape their warmth spreads a thick blanket that flows more and more relentlessly towards a new cycle in which everything begins again, but never the same as before.

In the second cycle, this musical material returns, more intense and urgent in character, and the consoling section reaches a climax more cataclysmic than the first. After delicate descending figures, a sparkling, twinkling soundscape evoking ice crystals closes the piece.


Restless Oceans

Anna Clyne is a British composer in demand, working extensively with orchestras, choreographers, filmmakers, and visual artists, and often collaborating on creative projects across the music industry. She has a keen fascination for the visual arts, which often inspires her music. Poetry is also a key stimulus, especially verses that conjure up strong visual imagery and emotion. To her, the orchestra is the “ultimate palette of colours” that she can use to “translate” these ideas. As she noted in a 2021 interview, “I think orchestration is like painting—you combine different instruments to create your own orchestral colours.”

Clyne composed Restless Oceans in 2018 for conductor Marin Alsop and the Taki Concordia Orchestra for performance at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos. It was premiered on January 22, 2019, at the meeting’s opening ceremony, where Alsop was presented with the Forum’s prestigious Crystal Award in recognition of her championship of diversity of music. As Clyne describes:

This work draws inspiration and its title from “A Woman Speaks”—a poem by Audre Lorde [the American self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet” and activist] and was composed with this particular all-women orchestra in mind. In addition to playing their instruments, the musicians are also called to use their voices in song and strong vocalizations, and their feet to stomp and to bring them to stand united at the end. My intention was to write a defiant piece that embraces the power of women. Restless Oceans is dedicated with thanks to Marin Alsop.

Clyne includes the full poem in the published score; while she’s not specifically using the poem to shape the structure of her music, she perhaps intends for audiences to read it, so to provide a psychological point of connection to the sonic experience of the piece.

“A Woman Speaks” – by Audre Lorde (1984; published in 1997)

Moon marked and touched by sun
my magic is unwritten
but when the sea turns back
it will leave my shape behind.
I seek no favor
untouched by blood
unrelenting as the curse of love
permanent as my errors
or my pride
I do not mix
love with pity
nor hate with scorn
and if you would know me
look into the entrails of Uranus
where the restless oceans pound.

I do not dwell
within my birth nor my divinities
who am ageless and half-grown
and still seeking
my sisters
witches in Dahomey
wear me inside their coiled cloths
as our mother did

I have been woman
for a long time
beware my smile
I am treacherous with old magic
and the noon's new fury
with all your wide futures
I am
and not white.

Restless Oceans opens “with fire and drive”, energetic all-downbow attacks in the upper strings and strong vocalizations on the syllable “Huh”. A tender but still forward-moving episode follows, with layered wave-like arpeggiations in the woodwinds, against which first violins, second violins, and violas enter in turn singing and playing an expressive melody. These single lines become a chorus, which lead back into the return of the “fire and drive” music. Later, clarinet and bassoons intone a lyrical melody that soon accelerates into a section that Clyne has marked with a line from Lorde’s poem, “where the restless oceans pound”. Beginning softly, rapid ostinato figures in the upper strings propel woodwinds and lower strings intoning a gradually ascending chromatic scale with increasingly louder swells. The figuration is picked up by the winds, and “with great force”, the piece draws to its “wild” conclusion.


Become Ocean

American composer John Luther Adams’s distinctive music is “grounded in space, stillness, and elemental forces,” shaped by nearly 40 years of having lived in northern Alaska. During the 1970s and 80s, he worked as an environmental activist, but later decided to become a composer full time, believing that music can be a more powerful force for change than politics. In his view, music offers possibilities of imagining “a culture and a society in which we each feel more deeply responsible for our own place in the world,” and the transformative potential “to bring that culture and that society into being.”

Commissioned by the Seattle Symphony and their then-Music Director Ludovic Morlot, Become Ocean was composed in 2013, and won the Pulitzer Prize for Music a year later. In Adams’s words,

It is a meditation on the deep and mysterious tides of existence. Life on Earth first emerged from the sea. And as the polar ice melts and sea levels rise, we humans find ourselves facing the prospect that once again we may literally become ocean.

While the work embraces the idea that “eventually, we begin to realize that we’re part of something much larger than ourselves,” Adams notes that the title arises from a more personal source:

Back in the late ’70s, John Cage wrote a mesostic poem called “Many Happy Returns”, in honor of his dear friend—also my mentor and friend—Lou Harrison. He compares Lou’s music to a river in delta, with all these different influences and currents, coming together in a big, beautiful sweep of music. And in the last line of the poem, Cage writes,

LiStening to it
we becOme

I’ve always been struck by what a beautiful image that is.

Become Ocean is an immersive experience, during which the orchestra becomes an immense sonic body. The sections of the orchestra—woodwinds, brass, and strings—each play sections of music that are repeated a specific number of times. The resulting effect to the ear is of different timbres and sonorities emerging out of and receding back into the oceanic mass as the piece unfolds. Over the span of 42 minutes, these wave-like sections progress, on one level, as six seven-minute sections. On another level, these sections can be grouped as three 14-minute arcs, reaching massive climaxes at the seven-, 21-, and 35-minute marks, when the peaks of the cycles of the instrumental sections coincide. At these half-way points, the music begins to move backward, eventually subsiding. This palindromic structure also shapes the piece at its largest structural level, when, from the mid-point, the music proceeds in reverse, providing a poignant change of perspective to what came before.

Program notes by Hannah Chan-Hartley, PhD

NAC Orchestra

Conductor: Alexander Shelley

First Violins
Yosuke Kawasaki (concertmaster)
Jessica Linnebach (associate concertmaster)
Noémi Racine Gaudreault (assistant concertmaster)
Jeremy Mastrangelo
Marjolaine Lambert
Manuela Milani
Emily Westell
*Zhengdong Liang
*Erica Miller
*Martine Dubé|
*Heather Schnarr
*Oleg Chelpanov
*John Corban

Second violins/
Mintje van Lier (principal)
Winston Webber (assistant principal)
Frédéric Moisan
Carissa Klopoushak
Mark Friedman
Karoly Sziladi
Leah Roseman
**Edvard Skerjanc
*Emily Kruspe
*Renée London
*Andréa Armijo Fortin
*Marc Djokic

Jethro Marks (principal)
David Goldblatt (assistant principal)
David Marks (associate principal)
Paul Casey
David Thies-Thompson
*Kelvin Enns
*Alexander Moroz

Rachel Mercer (principal)
Julia MacLaine (assistant principal)
Marc-André Riberdy
Timothy McCoy
Leah Wyber
*Desiree Abbey
*Karen Kang

Double basses
*Joel Quarrington (guest principal)
**Hilda Cowie
Max Cardilli
Vincent Gendron
Marjolaine Fournier
*Travis Harrison

Joanna G'froerer (principal)
Stephanie Morin
*Kaili Maimets

Charles Hamann (principal)
Anna Petersen
*Melissa Scott

English Horn
Anna Petersen

Kimball Sykes (principal)
Sean Rice
*Juan Olivares

Darren Hicks (principal)
Vincent Parizeau
*Ben Glossop

Lawrence Vine (principal)
Julie Fauteux (associate principal)
Elizabeth Simpson
Lauren Anker
Louis-Pierre Bergeron

Karen Donnelly (principal)
Steven van Gulik
*Paul Jeffrey

**Donald Renshaw (principal)
*Steve Dyer (guest principal)
Colin Traquair

Bass Trombone
*Zachary Bond

Chris Lee (principal)

*Jonathan Rance

Jonathan Wade
*Louis Pino
*Tim Francom

*Angela Schwarzkopf
*Alanna Ellison

*Olga Gross

*Patrick Cashin

Principal Librarian
Nancy Elbeck

Assistant Librarian
Corey Rempel

Personnel Manager
Meiko Lydall

Assistant Personnel Manager
Laurie Shannon

*Additional musicians
**On Leave/En congé