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Symphony No. 2 "Water"

Instrumentation: 2(II=Picc)222/4231/timp+2perc/hp/str
Duration: 24:00 (10', 9', 5')
Year Composed: 2013
Commissioner: Edmonton Symphony Orchestra
  1. Moderate. Expansive.
  2. Very slowly. Tranquil.
  3. Fast. Exuberant.

The second movement for strings alone (solo octet & tutti). Percussion (except timpani) and harp play only in third movement.


Audio Samples


Video

Narrated slideshow produced by Robert Rival on the inspiration behind Symphony No. 2 "Water".

Program Notes

Some years ago my wife and I hiked the Maligne Range (Skyline) trail, situated in the Canadian Rockies near Jasper, Alberta. The breathtaking views inspired my first symphony. Visits to Pacific Rim National Park near Tofino, Vancouver Island, and Wells Gray Provincial Park in the BC interior, famous for its countless rapids and waterfalls, suggested a water-themed symphony.

On the day we roamed Long Beach on the Pacific it was cold, overcast, misty and drizzling: perfectly moody, a place to warm the soul but not the skin. The roar of relentlessly pounding waves; the spectacular spray as these crashed on nearby islands; a vast, desolate beach strewn with shells, driftwood, seaweed; and an uninterrupted view of a horizon painted with dark, ominous clouds—all this forms the basis of the opening sonata-form movement in which a mysterious, wave-like principal theme—the ocean's raw force—is pitted against a glowing, undulating one—the joy provoked by its contemplation.

We retreated into the nearby temperate rainforest where an unusual serenity overcame me. In this sanctuary the ocean's din is muffled by lush green-saturated vegetation, a protective canopy formed by towering moss-covered trees, and the patter of rain on the forest floor. Nature's womb. Gentle and intimate, the second movement is scored for strings alone, the principal desks forming a solo octet enveloped like a forest's embrace by the remaining strings.

The band is in full force in the lively, dance-like finale culminating in a depiction of monumental Helmcken Falls, Canada's fifth highest (137m). Were I to return I would surely not have the courage again to lie on my belly at the canyon's edge, peering down at the thundering falls below.

I dedicate this symphony to my wife and thank my brother, David E. Rival, a professor researching fluid dynamics at the University of Calgary, for stimulating discussions about turbulence that found musical expression in the outer movements. —R.R.


Performances

  • Feb 22 & 23, 2013—Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, cond. William Eddins
    Winspear Centre (Edmonton, AB)

Reviews

"The symphony will give pleasure to many ... For above all this new symphony paints moods ... The opening movement plants itself firmly in the American 20th-century symphonic tradition, its longer, noble theme, more colour than melody, reminiscent of, say, Hanson – and all firmly tonal. Similarly, the dance-like opening of the final movement recalls Copland ... The second movement, the most successful, is initially more harmonically adventurous ... The movement concentrates on texture and colour, and as such is effective and appealing, with lovely effects at the end, as the rain drops whisper into nothing."
Mark Morris, Edmonton Journal, Feb 23, 2013
"Rival's Second Symphony is vividly programmatic. The first movement shifts interestingly through a variety of moods; the notion of structure is secondary to the musical ideas that lead the piece to its quiet fadeaway. In between, Rival creates brief moments of stormy emotion, gentle passages of unanxious longing and short periods of dark, harsher brass and woodwind writing. None of the transitions feel forced; his strength is musical narrative. The first and third movements also feature snippets of folk themes, the last one in a distinctly Celtic vein.

"The second movement suggested to me the caves of ice in Coleridge's Kubla Khan, casting a cool, remote glare on the world. In the middle of the movement Rival has written a small string quartet section where the rest of the orchestra withdraws into the background, mostly in silence. The overall mood of the movement is a blend of prayfulness and gratitude, perhaps. It finishes with subdued viola writing, subdued but not sad.

"The last movement is full of cheerful energy, a pastoral, a dancing day. The harp and horn figure prominently. Muted trumpet and snare together create an optimistic feel, and the echoic effects buzzing about the orchestra conjure images of happy, unselfconscious nature. Short stentorian brass and agitated strings episodes never really presage a descent into anything truly wild and dangerous. Overall, the water theme of the symphony never touches the monstrous aspects of the liquid medium. The last movement finishes with a kind of fanfare for a symphonic conclusion, upbeat and emphatically symphonic.

"Rival is a contemporary composer, in a line of other ESO composers-in-residence like Allan Gilliland and John Estacio, who resist antagonizing experiments in untested musical theories, preferring styles that audiences like to listen to, not music that imposes its experimental aesthetics on them. The audience on Friday saluted Rival for his considerate musical inclinations."

William Rankin, Edmonton Arts blog, Feb 23, 2013

Score Perusal & Parts Rental

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