for solo viola and winds (2015) by Lembit Beecher (movement 1 reading)

Instrumentation: solo viola with KB

1. With Irrational Exuberance but Light and Sneaky

2. Vibrant, Light, Buoyant and a little Jaunty

3. Gently Distant; With A Hazy, Airy Sound

4. With Distant and Transparent Warmth; Thoughtful but not too Sentimental

5. Bubbling with Repressed Energy; Crisp, Light, and Playful

James VanValkenburg, soloist (principal of Detroit Symphony Orchestra).

Beecher’s describes his inspiration for the work as follows:

In the year before writing An Anthology of Joy, I composed a number of serious and weighty pieces. Working on these felt rewarding and meaningful, but I sometimes wondered, as a relatively happy person, why there wasn’t more levity in my music. I had been listening to a lot of Bach cantatas at the time, and there is a buoyant, overwhelming sense of joy in some of the cantata choruses that I found so inspiring. I wondered if I would be able to capture something similar in my instrumental music. But as I began to write, I thought about how rare of a feeling pure joy was. Much more often, it seems, joy comes packaged in a complicated mix of emotions: the wild excitement of childhood, a rushing sense of relief, a bittersweet pleasure, or a tender sense of caring, for example. And my music seemed to resist the feeling of rapturous sunshine I had first set out to capture. Perhaps in a few moments here and there a pure sense of joy shines through, but the five movements of the piece ended up comprising a tour through a series of related emotions and memories: joy expressed through different filters of worldly experience. And in the end, I think the piece embodies a search or struggle that seems much more human than simple happiness itself.

Lembit’s primary teachers have included Evan Chambers, Bright Sheng, Karim Al-Zand, Pierre Jalbert, Kurt Stallmann and Bernard Rands. He has served as Visiting Assistant Professor of Music at Denison University, held residencies at the Copland House and Scrag Mountain Music, and has accompanied movement classes at the Joffrey Ballet in New York as well as in studios in San Francisco and Santa Cruz. An advocate for Estonian contemporary music, Lembit is also active as a pianist and concert producer. He has been known to play the concertina on special occasions.

Anthology of Joy was a joint commission that grew out of an ongoing partnership between the University of Michigan Symphony Band (with support from the H. Robert Reynolds Commissioning Fund), the Oberlin Conservatory, and the Detroit Chamber Winds and Strings. The commission requested a solo work for a string instrument of the composer’s choice to be accompanied by the same instruments required by Richard Strauss’s Serenade in Eb, Op. 7 (pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, four horns and either double bass or contrabassoon).

Drawing on family stories about Estonia and the immigrant experience, Lembit wrote And Then I Remember, a documentary oratorio based on interviews with his grandmother. “Evoking laughter at times, chilling nostalgia and a sense of timelessness,” (CultureMap Houston) the piece chronicles his grandmother’s journey from Estonia to the United States in the aftermath of World War II. Carl Schoonover, host at WKCR-89.9 FM, raved: “Lembit Beecher’s searing oratorio…employs microscopic historical narratives, the minutiae of human relations, and the cultural contingencies that shape them, to achieve a work of striking universality.” Completed while a fellow at the University of Michigan Institute for the Humanities, And Then I Remember won the Opera Vista Competition for new opera, and has been produced as a concert piece, semi-staged oratorio and fully staged opera in Ann Arbor, Houston, New York and San Francisco.