Submerged Worlds for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano, and percussion

Submerged Worlds is a chamber music work in 4 movements, scored for flute/piccolo, clarinet/bass clarinet, violin, cello, piano, and percussion. The concept of the piece originated with the image of rising sea levels across the world, brought about by collective human activity since the Industrial Revolution, and rapidly accelerating in our time. This initially led me to think of the profound changes to our environment and the consequent displacement and inevitable alteration of the way of life of many traditional societies around the globe. The idea of submergence later expanded to include metaphorical meanings.

I. Atlantis (Exordio) takes its inspiration from the mythical civilization, once powerful and prosperous, which was lowered to the bottom of the sea for its hubris—this myth encapsulates the problem we are facing as a civilization, and in its image of a drowned world serves as a reminder that “pride comes before the fall.” The movement starts as a rhapsodic incantation and proceeds to become more and more chaotic in its two ostinato sections, which illustrate the “chaos” and noise of modern urban life. Every instrument is busy “going about its own business,” and by the end of the piece they are all screaming over each other. The ostinato sections are separated by a nostalgic interlude that harkens to another time through its tonal musical language. All the instruments manage to “come together” for the last statement in octaves.

II. The Waiting Game is inspired by a musical tradition of the Inuit culture. With rapid and drastic changes to their environment, the Inuit and other traditional peoples of the North will be forced to alter or abandon their way of life, irrevocably changing their culture. Katajjaq are the musical games unique to the Inuit, in which women compete with each other in tightly rhythmic improvised duets while the men are out on a hunt. When competing, two women stand face-to-face and sing short repeated motives in interlocking patterns. These often imitate sounds of nature, like those of geese, caribou, or other wildlife. The contest is over when one person runs out of breath, trips over her own tongue, or begins laughing.

The movement’s title has a double meaning: on the one hand, it describes the fun competitive activity of the women while they are waiting for the men; on the other, the title comments on “the waiting game” we are all playing, not certain of what the outcomes of rapid climate change will be and how we will deal with them. Musically, this movement uses a “hocket” technique to produce interlocking rhythmic patterns. The middle section, marked “Out of time” in the score, recreates an Arctic sonic landscape, with sounds of wind, birds, and mammals.

III. The Red Forest (Ryzhiy Les). The concept of submergence, or drowning, led me to reflect further upon other aspects of civilization that may cause us to “drown” in our own ambition. One of them is the invention of powerful technologies that backfire spectacularly from time to time, with catastrophic results. A case in point is the Chernobyl disaster, which is especially close to me because I was born and grew up in one of the areas most affected by it—the Southeast corner of Belarus. The Red Forest is about one of the most ecologically contaminated areas in the world—an area in the Chernobyl 30 km “zone of alienation,” where no human settlement is allowed.   Immediately following the meltdown of the reactor, a cloud of radioactive dust descended upon a swath of nearby forest; the radiation exposure was so high that the trees turned red and died. Today, this area is a site off-limits to humans, and as a result wildlife has rebounded. There are even some limited studies showing, in at least some of the species, adaptations to life under conditions of high exposure. It is bittersweet to be reminded that nature will ultimately recover and heal the wounds we have inflicted upon it; we as a species, however, may not be there to see it. Musically, I wanted to create an eerie and desolate atmosphere and feeling of stasis. I used the 12-tone technique throughout this movement.

IV. De Profundis is based on Psalm 130, one of the Penitential psalms, which starts with the words “From the depths I cried out to you, O Lord.” The idea of “the depths” is powerful, as it suggests both literal and symbolic interpretations: depths of the ocean, depths of despair, depths of feeling. The Church uses this psalm in prayers for the dead; it has also been associated with souls in purgatory. Though my setting is purely instrumental, I use a chorale-like texture and polyphonic unfolding of simple musical lines to underscore the penitential and hopeful solemnity of the message.

Complete text of Psalm 130:

From the depths I have cried out to you, O Lord;

Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplication.

If you, Lord, were to mark iniquities, who, O Lord, shall stand?

For with you is forgiveness; and because of your law, I stood by you, Lord.

My soul has stood by his word.

My soul has hoped in the Lord.

From the morning watch, even until night, let Israel hope in the Lord.

For with the Lord there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption.

And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.

 

Duration:

c. 27 min. total

I. Atlantis (Exordio): c. 7’10””

II. The Waiting Game: c. 6’22’’

III. The Red Forest: c. 8’10’’

IV. De Profundis: c. 5’

The work was premiered on November 30, 2016 at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX, by the SMU new music ensemble, SYZYGY, under the direction of Dr. Lane Harder.

Instrumentation:

Flute/piccolo

Clarinet in B-flat/Bass Clarinet

Percussion (marimba, vibraphone, xylophone, crotales, 4 woodblocks (from low to high), 22’’ medium crash cymbal, sizzle cymbal, 28” symphonic timpani, chime in E, ratchet, triangle, guiro, bass drum, small tam-tam)

Piano (piano tool kit for mvts. II and III is available from the composer upon request)

Violin

Cello