"A Planets Odyssey" Piano Concerto
Instrumentation: 2d1.2d1.2.2 - 126.96.36.199 - Timp+2 - Strings
Duration: 22 minutes
World Premiere: November, 2020, with pianist Jeffrey Biegel and the Canton Symphony Orchestra under Gerhardt Zimmermann
This concerto is in a theme and variations form that begins with the “Big Bang,” followed by the pianist introducing the main theme of the concerto. This theme is then varied as the pianist visits each planet and is inspired by the unique properties of each planet. This is based off of new knowledge about each planet discovered in the past 30 years or so.
Mercury is characterized as a planet of extremes, because if you were to travel there and somehow survive the extreme hot by day and the extreme cold by night, you would see the sun by day as this large brilliant object surrounded by a black sky with stars because there is no atmosphere. It’s a very stark, extreme kind of place, and my music conveys this imagery. All of this said, the music is still accessible, tonally-oriented, and friendly to broad audiences.
Following Mercury comes Venus, of course, and scientists have recently speculated that there could be life high in Venus’s atmosphere, where the temperatures aren’t as horribly hot. This life could be floating around in the clouds. So, in this variation, I try to capture the essence of “life in the clouds.”
Mars follows Venus (like Holst, I skip Earth). The story of Mars seems to be rather sad, actually. Before 3 to 4 billion years ago, Mars appeared to have ocean(s) of water, and perhaps life, but at around 3 to 4 billion years ago, Mars lost its magnetic field. When that happened, much of its atmosphere disintegrated, and the water either froze or evaporated because there was no atmosphere to protect it. So, what might have been a more lush environment, perhaps with life, became cold, dry, and largely dead (unless the life has been forced underground). So, this variation captures the violence of the tragedy that befell Mars, and also has a nostalgic part that attempts to capture what Mars was like before it lost its magnetic field.
Jupiter is next, and it’s a gas giant planet, made up mainly of hydrogen and helium. Because of this, this variation is light and airy, with lots of figuration. I subtitled it: “swirly, blustery, and sometimes tempestuous.” The gases swirl about, sometimes at high speeds. However, they are very light, and helium in particular has a comical aspect to it, so I am trying to convey this lightness in the variation. In addition, though, Jupiter is famous for its storms, the most dramatic being the Great Red Spot. According to scientists, the storms have extremely intense lightning. So, this variation also captures the lightning and stormy aspects.
For Saturn, I am using the discovery that there might be solid diamonds and even diamond rain (closer to the core) in Saturn’s atmosphere as inspiration. This variation is slower but shimmery in its sensibility.
Uranus's atmosphere is turbulent with a lot of methane and other caustic materials swirling around. Also, it’s tipped on its side, so I have inverted the main theme in the variation. It’s a rather dark and dismal and almost threatening place in terms of the atmosphere it seems to create, so this variation conveys that sense.
Finally, Neptune is the windiest planet, with winds reaching over 1200 miles per hour. It is a mysterious place, being sapphire in color, and having an atmosphere of ices made from various elements. This variation will convey the windiness as well as the sparkly, icy blue atmosphere.
The piece will likely close with a variation that represents the dwarf planets beyond Neptune, including Pluto, Haumea, Makemake and Eris.
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