Music by Luna Pearl Woolf
Performed May 18, 2017
Conducted by Julian Wachner
St. Paul's Chapel, New York, NY
NEXUS New York
Julian Wachner, conductor
Dedicated to the survivors of the 2004 South Asian tsunami. I had always held tidal waves in the category of dragons and ogres— gigantic, evil, menacing, part of a mythical history that was no longer relevant to our time. That naive belief was shattered on December 26th, 2004 when a tsunami killed 225,000 people in South Asia.
Bandeh Aceh, the rebel province of Sumatra which had been nearly cut off from outside access by fighting and a government stranglehold, was closest to the epicenter of the earthquake that caused the wave. It would be days before the West learned about the near-complete devastation of the coastal communities there. Even more astounding was the fact that in Aceh the vast majority of people killed in the tsunami were women and children: those who worked and played near the shore while their husbands and brothers, working on the sea, rode to safety on the rising surface of the water.
Greenwood’s Artistic Director, Deb Sherr called me on December 30, 2004, having just returned from Thailand on December 24th. As we in the rest of the world woke up to a new reality in which natural disaster could be as frightening or more than any man-made threat, I began to think about a piece for the talented young people of Greenwood, whose joy in making music together is as palpable every year as the clear air and green woods of their summer retreat.
After the Wave is about changing perspectives. Vast distances pass under our sight — the physical void spanning from North America’s comfortable coasts to the ravaged one in Sumatra, the emotional abyss between panic and grief, productivity and hope.
A solo trumpet is heard from far away, a slow lament that only barely reaches our ears. The sound gets clearer as we begin to comprehend what we see. The main theme of the piece, whose opening notes spell out A-C-E-H(B), is heard first in the trumpet, then the English horn, and finally in a cacophony of voices as our vision gets closer to the chaotic aftermath. Gradually, inescapably, we are drawn in to one face, that of a man who has lost everything, wife and children, home and livelihood. Thrown violently inside his reeling, conflicted mind, we hear the heaving of his breath, the alarum of unyielding and overwhelming crisis, the unwanted imaginings of the death his loved ones must have suffered, and the paralysis of the regretful survivor. Briefly, an encouraging voice is heard in the lowest winds, a hint of hope that is soon dashed in the whirl of emotions.
As the images begin to dissolve into one another, shock and despair giving way to the necessary work of survival, the hopeful voice gains strength. Our view pulls back to see the survivors begin to find a footing in the effort to rebuild their lives and the life of the community. The low winds lend their theme to the entire wind and brass ensemble, in whose hands it becomes a dance, reaching ever higher and spreading wide.
The tombec enters, foreshadowing a march shared by the brass and strings, out of whom four solo voices emerge. Soon, the determination in this march is undermined, leaving a lonely oboe to restate the opening theme, this time accompanied with more energy and forward motion. The orchestra as a whole rebounds, coming together in a climactic scene that gives way to a new theme, built on the same underpinnings as the opening, but now sung by the entire orchestra as one voice, warm and full of promise. As we retreat to our own shores, the end of the work stretches upwards.
Six months after the wave, while the struggle to rebuild Aceh continues, the catastrophe has led rebel movement and government closer to reconciliation.
–Luna Pearl Woolf