The Waking Sun “A hit”

The Crossing’s performance of The Waking Sun was reviewed in yesterday’s Philadelphia Inquirer… David Patrick Stearns calls it “a hit.”

The Waking Sun, his setting of Seneca texts often divided into two or three contrapuntal strands that strained against one another in new, ear-pricking ways.

The piece has a huge musical range: unsettling rhythms of the opening movement; playful, quirky syncopation describing the bacchanals of the second; then the final movement fanning out into 12-part vocal writing to characterize universal love. There the music hit an intensely charged sweet spot that seemed to hang in a climax, unable to turn back but not knowing how to move forward, becoming even sweeter before concluding.

The intricate orchestration for baroque chamber orchestra Tempesta di Mare played to the group’s higher-personality members, theorbo player Richard Stone and concertmaster Emlyn Ngai. But the vocal writing is no doubt what prompted the hero’s welcome from the audience that packed the church up to the organ loft. Objectively speaking, The Waking Sun is, for lack of any better word, a hit.

Later, he calls my musical language “pared-back Anglican,” as opposed to Gabriel Jackson’s “lush Anglican” (his lovely Not No Faceless Angel was also on the program). I find the Anglican comment very funny. I mean, he very well may be right; I can’t say. I think of my voice as heavily informed by Lutheran chorale and American shape-note tunes, but I am aware that I’m not in the best position to judge these things. A very early piece of mine I thought to be indebted to Hindemith prompted a friend to comment on my influence from Ravel. And the hymnal I was raised on, the 1958 Lutheran Service Book and Hymnal, is thin on chorales and fraught with Anglicanisms, or at least the Bb melting-pot American sound whose main ingredient is British Protestant. It was a time when American Lutherans were terribly afraid of anything Teutonic, something many of them still haven’t gotten over, shame on them.

Plus I recall that my first musical infatuation was Vaughan Williams (as opposed to my first love, which is Brahms). I haven’t gotten over either of them, praise be.

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2 thoughts on “The Waking Sun “A hit”

    1. Kile Smith Post author

      Hi Mike, the Lutheran Service Book and Hymnal, SBH, is 1958. Now that I think of it, so much of the liturgy comes from Sweden. And reharmonized, of course… or harmonized, perhaps, not sure, but gorgeous and sweet.

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