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The Great Northern Diver

Instrumentation: 2+Picc.2.2+E-flatCl+BsCl.2/4221/timp+4perc/hp/str
OR reduced version: 2(II=Picc).2.2(II=BsCl,EbCl).2/4231/timp+3perc/hp/str
Duration: 10:30
Year Composed: 2003
Commissioner: Ottawa Youth Orchestra, for its joint tour with the Newfoundland Symphony Youth Orchestra to Wales and Ireland in 2004.

In the larger version, the Bass Clarinet may be replaced by a third Bassoon.

Robert Rival and John Gomez
Rival and John Gomez, Ottawa Youth Orchestra Music Director, at a dress rehearsal of The Great Northern Diver. St. Brigid's Centre for the Arts, Ottawa, November 28, 2015. Photo by Han Shen.


Audio Samples (mp3)

from a performance by the Ottawa Youth Orchestra

I. A Starlit Lake (opening)

II. Diving (opening)

III. Wailing (ending) & IV. Taking Flight (opening)

IV. Taking Flight (middle)


Program Notes

The common loon (Gavia immer), also known as the "great northern diver", nests on small North American lakes, mainly in Canada.

I. A Starlit Lake (opening) — A fall night, by a northern lake. From complete darkness stars emerge one by one. As the eye adjusts, the sky appears more and more dense-nebulae, galaxies, star dust. The constellations help make sense of the vastness. Suddenly a distant sound connects the sky with the lake below: the wail of a loon.

II. Diving — The next day, sunny. A loon floats quietly in the middle of the lake. It plunges its head into the water peering for fish. Then it disappears. What does it see and pursue as it dives and propels itself fluidly into the depths of the lake? For us, time stands still. It feels like an eternity before the loon reemerges, but now far away. Its wet black and white plumage glistens in the sun.

III. Wailing — Another clear and still night. A chorus of loons fills the air with wails, tremolos and yodels, calling to each other from lake to lake. The almost free play of the rhythms and the repetition of tones is trance-like and spellbinding.

IV. Taking Flight — Another sunny day. A small group of loons gathers at one end of the lake. A single loon leads with a long takeoff: furious wing-flapping as the bird, whose bones are solid for better diving, must run across the water before finally lifting off a hundred metres away. The others soon follow, one by one. Now the flock can be seen rising and curving into the horizon on the first leg of its long journey south to coastal waters. The loons soon disappear from view but will return to this very lake next spring.

Performance Note

The E-flat clarinet is placed apart from the orchestra, ideally in a balcony. The dialogue between it and the two other on-stage B-flat clarinets, and the distance between them, mimic the calls loons make to one another from neighbouring lakes. Passages for the winds have been meticulously transcribed from actual loon calls.


Performances

  • Nov 5, 2016—Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, cond. L. Waldin,
    Symphony for Kids (Winspear Centre) [Parts III & IV]
  • Nov 29, 2015—Ottawa Youth Orchestra. cond. John Gomez
    Brigid's Centre for the Arts (Ottawa, ON)
  • Jan 11, 2014—Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, cond. L. Waldin,
    Symphony for Kids (Winspear Centre) [Part I]
  • Mar 9, 2013—Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, cond. L. Waldin,
    Symphony for Kids (Winspear Centre) [Parts III & IV]
  • Feb 11, 12 & 19, 2013—Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, cond. L. Waldin
    education concerts 4-6 (Winspear Centre) [Part I]
  • Apr 24, 25 & May 1, 2012—Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, cond. L. Waldin, education concerts K-3 (Winspear Centre) [Parts III & IV]
  • Feb 8, 14 & 15, 2012—Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, cond. L. Waldin, education concerts 4-6 (Winspear Centre) [Parts III & IV]
  • Mar 27, 2011—Ottawa Youth Orchestra, cond. J.Gomez (Centrepointe Theatre)
  • Ottawa Youth Orchestra 2011 Italy tour, cond. J.Gomez
    :: Mar 16—Secci Theatre, Terni
    :: Mar 15—Savoia Theatre, Campobasso
  • Feb 27, 2011—Ottawa Youth Orchestra (St. Bridgid's), cond. J.Gomez
  • Aug 24, 2007—National Academy Orchestra, cond. Martin MacDonald
    Brott Music Festival, Hamilton Place (Hamilton, ON)
  • May 9, 2004—Ottawa Youth Orchestra, cond. John Gomez
    Canadian Youth Orchestra Festival, National Arts Centre (Ottawa)
  • Ottawa Youth Orchestra/Newfoundland Symphony Youth Orchestra 2004 tour, cond. J.Gomez
    :: Mar 19—Waterford Institute of Technology, Ireland
    :: Mar 18—Dublin National Concert Hall, Ireland
    :: Mar 17—Limerick Institute of Technology, Ireland
    :: Mar 14—Blackwood Miners Institute (Cardiff, UK)
  • Mar 7, 2004—Ottawa Youth Orchestra (Ottawa), cond. J.Gomez

Reviews

"[The Great Northern Diver] created the almost silent vastness of Canada and the individual wail of the loon."
— Munster Express (Waterford, Ireland)

Score Perusal & Parts Rental

For score perusal and parts rental information, contact Robert Rival.