During my first winter in Edmonton I witnessed a remarkable natural phenomenon right outside my front door: a large flock of Bohemian Waxwings—hundreds!—swirling rapidly in the sky above. Henceforth, whenever I heard the distinct whirring produced by their collective chirping, I eagerly looked up to admire the cloud of birds making razor-sharp turns in near-perfect synchronicity.
This avian aerial dance inspired my work's opening gesture, a whirling effect built on a progression of chords animated by rapid scales that, like the birds' flight patterns, abruptly change directions. Two contrasting themes follow: one lively, exuberant and syncopated, constructed on fragments and variations of itself, the other lyrical and expansive.
The three themes are continually recycled, varied each time—transposed, rhythmically altered, reharmonized, reorchestrated, fragmented, or some combination—creating an impression of cycling repeatedly through familiar material. It is like observing changes in the scenery while riding a merry-go-round: that man with the straw hat stroking his goatee is now gone; in his place a toddler throws a tantrum. The work's title alludes to its spiraling structure, its almost unrelentingly fast tempo, and to the tremendous sweep of the waxwings in flight (the first theme).
As I worked out variations on my themes, there was one in particular that stood out. By "flattening" the rhythm of the chipper tune into even quarter-notes while retaining pitch order, it suddenly came to resemble strikingly the closing number of Stravinsky's ballet The Firebird. So I had a choice to make: drop it (damn, it's been taken!) or play it up. I chose the latter by borrowing some of Stravinsky's own orchestration. I don't think the Russian master, who said that "a good composer does not imitate, he steals," would have minded one bit. —R.R.
Feb 28, 2015—Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, cond. José-Luis Gomez Winspear Centre (Edmonton, AB)
May 12, 2014—Ottawa Symphony Orchestra, cond. Richard Hoenich National Arts Centre (Ottawa, ON)
Sep 2, 2013—Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, cond. Bob Bernhardt Symphony Under the Sky (Edmonton, AB)
May 6-8, 10, 2013—Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, cond. Lucas Waldin Education concerts K-3 (Winspear Centre) [excerpt]
Sep 23, 2012—Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, cond. Lucas Waldin Winspear Centre (Edmonton, AB)
"...clever and evocative..."
—Richard Todd, Ottawa Citizen, May 12, 2014
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