Joan Tower’s ‘Rising’ explores the simple act of going ‘up’ in music

Of her "Rising," Joan Tower says, “The main theme is an ascent motion using different kinds of scales — mostly octatonic or chromatic — and occasionally arpeggios.

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Eminent American composer Joan Tower has written several works featuring the flute, such as Snow Dreams (1983), Valentine Trills (1996), A Little Gift (2006) and Rising (2009).  

She feels that the instrument had been neglected by contemporary composers, saying, “When the 20th century is over, I believe statistics will show that the flute repertoire has increased substantially over any other instrumental area.”

In her program note for Rising (which will be performed in a CSO MusicNOW concert May 23), Tower wrote: “I have always been interested in how music can ‘go up.’ It is a simple action, but one that can have so many variables: slow or fast tempos, accelerating, slowing down, getting louder or softer — with thick or thin surrounding textures going in the same or opposite directions.

“For me, it is the context and the feel of the action that matters. A long climb, for example, might signal something important to come (and often hard to deliver on!). A short climb, on the other hand, might be just a hop to another phrase. One can’t, however, just go up. There should be a counteracting action which is either going down or staying the same to provide a tension within the piece. (I think some of our great composers, especially Beethoven, were aware of the power of the interaction of these ‘actions.’)

“The main theme in Rising is an ascent motion using different kinds of scales — mostly octatonic or chromatic — and occasionally arpeggios. These upward motions are then put through different filters, packages of time and varying degrees of heat environments which interact with competing static and downward motions.”

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