for two female singers, large chamber ensemble and optional film
Instrumentation: two female singers, large chamber ensemble (16 performers) and optional film
(Ensemble: fl., ob., B-flat cl., alto sax, tenor sax, bsn., F horn, C tpt., tbn., soprano (amplified), mezzo soprano (amplified), keyboard (one player, piano and synthesizer), electric guitar, percussion (drumset (snare drum, kick drum, 2 tom toms, floor tom, hi-hat, crash cymbal, ride cymbal), anvil, bell tree, Ching Chok, Flexitone, large tam tam, large wood block), two vlns., vla., vcl., cb. (gentle amplification of bowed string instruments suggested)
Commissioned by the Albany Symphony for Dogs of Desire, David Alan Miller, conductor
World Premiere: Dogs of Desire, Experimental Media & Performing Arts Center (EMPAC), Troy, NY, USA, May 31, 2013.
Publisher: Bill Holab Music
Ghost Theater was commissioned by David Alan Miller and the Albany Symphony for the Dogs of Desire, the symphony’s groundbreaking, eighteen-member, chamber ensemble. The only requirement, other than length and instrumentation, was that I work with a collaborator, so I chose award-winning, Vermont-based filmmaker Jay Craven.
The work is about what the title describes: a theater haunted by apparitions, and in particular, disembodied shadows and ghosts of soldiers killed in combat. However, as the work was created, it took on additional inspirations: the thought of being haunted by one’s past, especially via a musical lens, and also the memories of war stories told by my father when I was growing up, who was born and raised in Rensselaer, right outside Albany, and who was stationed in Korea during the Korean War. Throughout the work, I interweave abstract references to pieces and composers that have not only inspired (or haunted) me, but also my mentor and longtime friend, Christopher Rouse. In particular, I quoted the drum part for Led Zeppelin’s When The Levee Breaks, the same drum lick that also appears in Rouse’s Bonham for eight percussionists. The entire piece is presented as a series of connected, pseudo-programmatic vignettes, each one flowing into the next, without break. The vocal texts are derived from three sources: an epitaph found on many European gravestones, and brief quotes from poems by Wilfred Owen and Pablo Naruda.
Although this work may be performed as a stand-alone concert work, it may also be presented with Craven’s film. In the world of filmmaking, films are usually created first, with music added later or even at the very end, but Jay and I went back and forth quite a bit, treating the process in a more collaborative manner. Once we had an idea, Jay created a rough outline and then shot footage in collaboration with video artist Catherine Siller. After studying a rough cut, I composed the music. The film was then edited around a digital mock-up of the music. The result is a surreal, dreamlike work that interweaves music and film, creating an aural and visual tapestry.
Ghost Theater is dedicated with gratitude to Christopher Rouse, David Alan Miller and the Albany Symphony.