(1990) for orchestra
duration: 8 minutes
New York Youth Symphony, Samuel Wong, Carnegie Hall, March 24, 1991
Commissioned by the New York Youth Symphony (First Music Competition)
Awakening is an eight minute fantasy for symphony orchestra which was commissioned by the New York Youth Symphony through its "First Music 7" competition, and was composed in the summer of 1990 at Tanglewood and premiered in Carnegie Hall March 24th, 1991, with Samuel Wong conducting.
A sharply punctuated opening serves as a signal, or alarm, from which the music unfolds. Awakening begins with relatively slow, quiet night music, featuring dark, foreboding rumblings in the lower register. In gradual increments, the music becomes increasingly faster, louder and more agitated, utilizing a broad spectrum of timbre and instrumental range. This progression and expansion mirror the idea of a consciousness, or even some huge, imaginary being, gradually emerging with a vengeance from a long dormancy. Most of the melodic and accompanimental material in Awakeningis built organically from a five pitch cell, first stated in clear, sustained tones by the bass clarinet and bassoons immediately following the opening punctuation. For example, near the beginning this basic cell is developed into a four phrase melody, the orchestration of which progresses from solo bass clarinet to elaborate doublings and fragmentation in the fourth phrase. This melody returns near the end of the piece in combination with a canon that had been presented by a strings earlier. The canon appears in the high winds and brass during this 'reunion of two themes', la Berlioz. The basic cell also generates a fugato passage featuring the brass, which immediately precedes the 'reunion.'
Two elements contribute to the increasing levels of tension which are emphasized by frequent shifts into a 'higher gear'. One is a change to a faster tempo, of which there are seven in Awakening. The first five times this happens, the gear shift is immediate, abruptly switching to the new tempo. The last two tempo changes are accelerations, in which the new tempo is achieved only after seemingly great effort, as if the awakening entity is trying to break through some restraint or boundary. The second element adding tension is a stepwise ascent of the focal pitches, or tonal centers within the work. Often these ascents coincide with the increases in tempo. In the first half of the composition, these 'focal' pitches are held as pedal points, though with increasing embellishment. At first just sustained by basses, the pedal points become increasingly decorated by repeated articulations and by expansions of the basic cell based on the focal pitch, notably in the marimba.
The large sections of Awakeningalternate between simple and compound meters (pulses divided by two and three, respectively). From the midpoint until near the end, the meter is compound, but a final switch to simple emphasizes the increasing cohesion and level of a consciousness in the awakening, and allows for a dramatic change in rhythm to proclaim unequivocally that the 'awakening' has been achieved.