Photo by Gerald Seligman

Being in Life

Concerto for French horn and Alpenhorn, 5 Tibetan singing bowls, and string orchestra

Being in Life will be premiered October 6, 2019 by Philharmonia Northwest, Ann Ellsworth, horns and Julia Tai, conductor. A special thanks goes to the Fromm Music Foundation for its generous support in commissioning the piece.

For more information and tickets: http://philharmonianw.org/19-20season/concert-i-songs-of-life/

Photo by Gerald Seligman

Being in Life, reflects the idea that we are all walking down our individual life paths, intersecting and interacting in various ways.

This piece is dedicated to the memory of Raphael Anthony Warshal Yell who died suddenly and tragically just short of his 3rd birthday. I spent time with this delightful little boy just a week before his death in March of 2018 and had come to believe that he was a musical genius. I could tell that he was listening to music – from Mozart to reggae and even my “modern” music — with an intention of complete understanding. He was processing the structure of the music while being totally immersed in the glory of the sound. He may have been a child, but he was already a sophisticated and discerning listener. In tribute to him, I decided to write a joyful piece that would “knock his socks off” – enchant his young ears and fill him with amazement. If I started to veer into the sadness of his death, I stopped myself and changed course. I hope that this work will appeal to the “child” in all of us.

The first movement explores the sound world of the Alpenhorn – whose harmonic structure is dependent on the fact that the Alpenhorn is in F# with only the pitches of that harmonic series available. I selected the specifically pitched singing bowls to work with this. The second movement is a setting of a Hindustani “bandish” (prayer melody), Aiso Mahagyani Konahay in Raag, Bilaskhani Todi. The melody is one that I learned while studying Hindustani music in India with my guru, Pandit Kedar Narayan Bodas. When I sang it for Ann, she insisted that it become part of her concerto. I have given it a fairly Western setting, much in the tradition of composers setting a folk tune. The third movement, “The Hunt,” has a playful program: starting out at a fast pace, the dogs and riders are chasing a fox but they lose him when they get ensnarled in a thicket. Then the fox (now the Alpenhorn) emerges triumphant, thumbing his nose at the hunters and dogs as he gets away.

Ann Ellsworth and I collaborated closely on Being in Life and the give and take in developing ideas has been rich and rewarding. It was Ann’s idea to include the Alpenhorn (about which I knew little) and we both wanted to combine the horns with Tibetan singing bowls, which I have been collecting and using in my compositions for almost two decades.  We thought that strings would be the best third element and thus the concept for the orchestration was born. Throughout the work, and especially in the 2nd movement, the concertmaster is featured as soloist.

Being in Life was commissioned for Ann Ellsworth and Philharmonia Northwest, Julia Tai conductor, by a generous grant from the Fromm Music Foundation.

Watch an instructional video made by Sheila Silver on how to play Tibetan singing bowls:

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