Monday, February 10, 2020

Promethean Fire on YouTube - With Hila Plitmann

Promethean Fire Text by Alfred Noyes

I sing of those who caught the pure Promethean fire
One from another, each crying as he went down

To one that waited, crowned with youth and joy. 
Take thou the splendour, carry it out of sight

Into the great new age I must not know
Into the great new realm I must not tread.

Promethean Fire - Program Notes

The piece was composed for the July 7, 2019, Mount Wilson Sunday Afternoon Concerts in the Dome series, curated by cellist and artistic director Cécilia Tsan.

Mount Wilson Observatory founder George Ellery Hale invited his friend, the English poet Alfred Noyes, on a night when no members of the press were invited, to commemorate the night of first light at the 100-inch telescope dome in 1917. The text of Promethean Fire comes from this poem. Hale’s colleague, my grandfather, Harold D. Babcock, used the text in his obituary of Hale in 1938, wherein he also describes an evening open house held at the observatory in 1919, with music supplied by a strolling harpist.

Promethean Fire is essentially a short tribute to Hale. He  had previously built Yerkes Observatory in Wisconsin, but Mount Wilson was Hale's first mountain-top observatory, which involved multiple logistical difficulties. It eventually included three solar telescopes and two large reflector telescopes for night-time work. Andrew Carnegie and others helped make the success of Hale's observatory possible, Edwin Hubble and others helped make it internationally known, and scientists such as Albert Einstein came to visit. But Hale had the original vision for the mountain.

Discoveries made at Mount Wilson include the size of the Milky Way Galaxy and our position in it, proof that we are not the only galaxy in the universe, and proof that the universe itself is expanding.

Hale did not live to see the completion of his dream for Mount Palomar, the 200-inch telescope, in 1948. He could only imagine the images that this elegant machine would collect. Nor could he have foreseen the progress brought by the Hubble Space Telescope, nor can any of us know what the still-under-construction Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) in Las Campanas, Chile will reveal about our universe. But each successive generation of observers has built on the foundation of the last and carried on the Promethean Fire. 

Following Hale’s death, colleague Harold Babcock ended his words of memoriam with these words:
“Few men have enjoyed a life so rich as Hale’s in those returns that bring the deepest satisfaction. …His life was a rebuke and a refutation to cynicism. In the midst of our irreparable loss, the words of his friend, poet Alfred Noyes, stand out in clear relief:
“….I sing
Of those who caught the pure Promethean fire
One from another, each crying as he went down
To one that waited, crowned with youth and joy, 
Take thou the splendour, carry it out of sight
Into the great new age I must not know
Into the great new realm I must not tread.” 
For more on George Ellery Hale, see this excellent  documentary by my friends Todd and Robin Mason: 

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Organ Premiere of Alternative Facts

James Walker premiered the organ version of my piece
Alternative Facts February 1, 2020 at St. Cross Episcopal
Church in Hermosa Beach, CA.

Alternative Facts was composed as a reaction to the 2016 presidential campaign, election, and subsequent inauguration of our current president. Ever since he announced his candidacy we have, 
as a nation, endured a profound attack on reality, not to mention democracy, diplomacy, civility, 
and honesty.

We now know first-hand the experience of passing "Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There," Lewis Carroll's 1871 novel. We are also living in George Orwell's "1984" and the 1944 MGM film "Gaslight." This is now our exhausting "alternative facts" daily life.

Alternative Facts was composed for my long-time friend and colleague, the brilliant Emmy and Grammy winning pianist Gloria Cheng. It was recorded at the UCLA Herb Alpert School Of Music/ Ostin Music Center studio by multiple Grammy-winning engineer Rich Breen. It will be included on an upcoming, and as yet unnamed, album on the Navona label in 2020.

The piece itself reflects the times we are living in. Discombobulating, annoying, loud, repetitive, confounding, crazy-making, tiresome, frenetic, all of the above. The video contains only a tiny fraction of the 13,000+ "false or misleading" claims made by the president as gathered by the Washington Post, as well as claims made in the years before the 2016 election, and claims made by the president's supporters.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

CD Review: Etereo by Lindsey Goodman

ETEREO NEW MUSIC FOR FLUTE by Lindsey Goodman with Chrysalis Duo & Leviathan Trio
Featuring works by Bruce Babcock, Steven Block, Peter Castine, Alla Elana Cohen, Mara Helmuth, Jennifer Jolley, Josh Oxford, Jason Taurins

Flutist Lindsey Goodman has just released her latest album, Etereo, New Music for Flute.  Goodman, a champion of New Music, dives into her 3rd album of new works.
The album begins with Bluez by Josh Oxford.  With it’s Blues-y feel, Goodman rocks the singing and playing bit, as well as showing great commend over the technical riffs.  The melancholic nature of Soliloquy by Bruce Babcock, showcases Goodman’s exquisite musicality and rich tone.  Marsyas by Jason Taurins is a change of pace track featuring Alto Flute, delivering a mournful, contemplative mood.  Goodman offers a deep, plush sound on her Alto Flute.  The work is haunting and ethereal.  Gadfly by Jason Taurins lets Goodman display wonderful extended techniques, all showcasing her riveting tone.  Sweet Soulless Solstice by Steven Block is desolate, and severe, expertly played by Goodman.  
Butterfly Within by Mara Helmuth offers an entirely different landscape.  Bone chilling and indelible, Goodman waves her magic wand and lights the path within the electronic soundscapes.
Watercolors of the Master Who Is Accustomed to Paint Oils, by Alla Elana Cohen, is a beautiful work for flute and piano.  Goodman masterfully explores new colors with her brilliant pianist.
3 Duos for Alto Flute & Cello by Peter Castine offers interesting landscapes for the otherwise unusual bedmates.  A toy piano is also heard in this piece, offering dolorous hints of hammered stabs.
Flight 710 to Cabo San Lucas for Flute, Cello and Piano by Jennifer Jolly makes for a blistering & captivating finale.
Throughout the album, Goodman’s crystal sound commands attention, and her technique is impeccable.  Her world class collaborators and composers make for an enthralling album of new works for flute.
-Viviana Guzman