Symphony No. 1 (1996)
Commissioned by the Elmwood Fund for Richmond Symphony’s fortieth anniversary celebration
In the fall 1994, I dared to tell my dear friend and supporter Thekla West that I thought I was ready to compose my first symphony. Thekla was a fierce supporter of the arts who had a gift for identifying and assisting artists in their career goals. Soon after, Thekla arranged for me to meet Edmund (Ned) A. Rennolds, Jr., co-founder of the Richmond (VA) Symphony. That meeting would change the course of my life. To my great surprise, Mr. Rennolds said right away that he would support the commission of a symphony written by me, and he thought it should be part of the Richmond Symphony's fortieth anniversary, to be celebrated in concerts planned for 1997.
Amazed and encouraged by that meeting, I immediately wrote a letter to George Manahan, Music Director of the Richmond Symphony, to propose the idea of his including my first symphony in one of the 1997 concerts. Not only did he give the project his blessing, but he placed the world premiere of my as-yet-unwritten work on the program for a February 1997 Masterworks concert, alongside Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. Equally thrilled and terrified by this fortunate set of circumstances, I wondered how I would find the time and money to pursue this 'dream now turned actual plan'.
In the spring of 1995, Mr. Rennolds hosted an event in my honor, an evening of my music and reception at his elegant home. I performed in a concert with the Lyric Ensemble, a chamber group I founded, and which had been performing my music for over ten years. The guests listening included symphony supporters. Based on the outcome of that evening, I was freed to write my first symphony by way of financial support from many generous individuals and several foundations.
That funding made it possible for me to work full-time on the symphony for a year, beginning in early 1996. Symphony No. I was written in New York City and in Virginia – including during two separate fellowships at Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA). I crafted the basic structure of the work in the winter of 1996, casting it in four movements: Allegro, Andante, Scherzo, and Fugato. Knowing that the commission was in honor of the fortieth anniversary of the Richmond Symphony, I crafted themes that would evoke a spirit of celebration. And knowing that my piece would be featured on a program with a master composition such as Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, I wanted to pay homage to certain traditions of symphony composition. In particular, I was eager to experiment with the scherzo and fugato components of the piece. It being my first symphony, I also intended to let the work grow out of itself, to spin off in process, especially toward my personal interests in unconventional orchestration, with disparate influences including classical, popular and rock music, and folk music, particularly the traditional music of Southern Appalachia.
I finished the composition while in residence for the second time at VCCA — though barely meeting Maestro Manahan’s deadline for the February 1997 concert. It was during a heavy winter snowstorm, a perfect setting for working with the fugal component of the piece (i.e., the final movement). It seemed fitting that I would both start and finish my first symphony at this haven for artists, a place that had been home during an intense and rewarding year, my first year as a full-time composer.
Premiere performance: The Richmond Symphony, George Manahan conductor, Carpenter Center for the Performing Arts, Richmond, VA, 1997
MIDI Realization (computer rendering).