Umbras and Illuminations

For Orchestra

James Matheson

Performing Ensemble: Orchestra
Publisher: Theodore Presser Company
Print Status: Rental

Quick Overview

During a trip to Albany in 2003 for the premiere of a work for chamber orchestra work I wrote for the city?s symphony, I spent a few hours wandering through (and under) the Empire State Plaza. I was struck by the austere power of the block-like buildings, and intrigued by the notion that while (during winter, at least) the plaza itself is virtually empty of people, life proceeds at a rapid pace beneath it, in the subterranean complex of passageways that connect the buildings. I find this inversion of what we ordinarily take for granted (i.e., that the illuminated depths are where human activity is most apparent, and the surface, darkened by winter clouds, comparatively desolate) enormously appealing, and kept these notions much in mind when I sat down to begin work on what became Umbras and Illuminations.

Umbras and Illuminations is essentially an exploration of these contrasts. It has an overtly dramatic shape, and is full of emotional nuance, but is guided by the notion of moving in and out of shadowy places and bright ones. The emotional range of the work is therefore quite broad, and puts into play the metaphorical implications of light and darkness: it is variously bright, yearning, melancholy and fiercely angry, and its textures range from the kinetically charged to the virtually motionless. Ultimately, the work?s impetus derives from three things: the working out of these apparent contrasts, the discovery of their connection as opposites, and the exploration of the notion that these opposites mirror the dynamic equilibrium of life, with its both tragic and euphoric dimensions.

Available on Rental

Additional Information

Commission Commissioned by the Albany Symphony Orchestra
Composition Date 2004
Duration 20:00
Orchestration 3(dbl. Picc.) 3(E.H.) 2 2 – 4 2 3 1; Str.
Premiere April 23, 2004, Albany Symphony Orchestra

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