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ClassicsOnline Home » COOMAN, C.: Nantucket Dreaming (Bohuslav Martinu Philharmonic, Slovak National Symphony, Trevor)
These world première recordings bring together several works from American composer Carson Cooman’s Nantucket Dreaming cycle, a series of compositions inspired by the island’s landmarks and landscape. Spanning a seven-year creative period, these diverse works, with their blazes of instrumental colour, subtle atmospherics and lyrical evocations of wind, sky, land and sea, create an interconnected narrative of shared musical images and ideas. Fanfare magazine proclaimed that ‘Cooman has something to say, an engaging voice to do so, and real musical chops’, a testament to the talent of one of the most active American composers of his generation.
Carson Cooman (b. 1982)
Nantucket Island is located approximately thirty miles off the coast of Massachusetts, in the New England region of the United States. It is accessible only by water or air, and the ferry journey of several hours creates a sense of leaving the “real world” of the mainland and entering something very different.
Since 1986, I have spent several weeks of each summer on Nantucket. The unique landscape and temperament of the island has become of crucial importance to my musical development, and Nantucket is the inspiration behind a great many of my musical compositions. It is likely the fact that my yearly trips are relatively brief in duration that accounts for some of this special character; for it is usually only after spending an extended period of time in a certain place that the immediate delights give way to inevitable annoyances and frustrations. However, Nantucket’s character of serene isolation (making it extremely different from the more commercialized and larger Martha’s Vineyard, its “partner island”), creates a distinctive experience that has formed a working home for many writers, visual artists, and musicians. As I grew into my career and voice as a composer, I found myself using the Nantucket weeks each summer as a time of inspiration and sketching for the pieces on my schedule for composition during the following musical year.
The works on this disc form a part of my “Nantucket Dreaming” cycle, a series of compositions that are explicitly connected to Nantucket’s places and landscape. Several of these works are inspired by very specific locations. Most places on Nantucket retain their American Indian names, which can be found in many of my titles. The remaining works (with more general titles) are connected to Nantucket more broadly, but no less deeply. The specific works chosen for this recording (dating from a seven year period) thus create an interconnected narrative of shared musical images and ideas.
Miacomet Dreaming, Op. 781 (2008), for orchestra, is dedicated to Loretta Yoder and Kyle Latshaw. The inspiration for the work was an oil painting, Path to Miacomet (2006), by Loretta Yoder; its fervency of color and landscape provided the poetic image that drives the work. The music itself was worked out during the early hours of darkness on the actual beach of Miacomet. As the sun set and darkness covered the landscape, only the passionate sound of the surf remained. The music is fervent and searching in tone. It begins with a roar before quieting down to introduce its basic musical material—a simple “lament” theme in a folk-inflected style. This material is used for further explorations, building to passionate climaxes. Finally, the opening music returns, but this time it is whispered. The movement winds down to a distant and reposed conclusion.
Nobadeer Dreaming, Op. 784 (2008), for solo flugelhorn, was written for Colby Cooman. It is conceived as “open-air” music, imagining the player performing outside on the beach at night, with the music echoing off the dunes. Nobadeer is one of Nantucket’s many beaches.
Quintet for Bassoon and Strings, Op. 764 (2005–08), was commissioned by The Commission Project and is dedicated to Klaus Heymann, in tribute for his invigoration of the classical recording industry and his enthusiastic support for the composers of our time.
The original conception for the work was devised during an extremely foggy week on Nantucket in the summer of 2005. It is music deeply connected to the darkened ocean landscape and a sense of pilgrimage. Throughout the work, the strings often present a fog-like backdrop through which the bassoon’s color emerges like a lighthouse beacon—lyrical and flexible. The work opens with a series of interlocking, nebulous figurations in the strings that gradually build in intensity. The bassoon unfolds the work’s basic melodic material in a free solo, which also possesses a forward trajectory. At the point of climax, the tempo suddenly slows dramatically, and a tender, lyrical cantilena emerges. As this music dissolves, a bouncy and energetic music takes the foreground. It climaxes in a bassoon cadenza. Though the bassoon has played the leader throughout, this is the first time it is heard unaccompanied. A brief, but vigorous afterglow recalls the opening of the work. The final section emerges out of it: a series of high, distant harmonics (perhaps harbor buoys) in the strings through which the bassoon sings a final song.
Madaket Dreaming, Op. 774 (2008), a nocturne for piano, was written for and is dedicated to pianist, conductor, and composer Max Lifchitz. Madaket is located on Nantucket’s western side, with beaches that experience particularly impressive summer sunsets. The work is a lyric nocturne, unfolding a series of melodic ideas derived from the opening harmonies. The goal is reached at the end—a brief, warm chorale-like texture that fades away into the closing sonorities.
Shawkemo Dreaming, Op. 811 (2009), for string orchestra, is dedicated to Robert Moran. Overlooking the harbor and conservation preserves, Shawkemo imparts a sense of peace, amidst gentle wind and sky. The work begins with bell-like tolling through which a freely lyrical melody is unfolded. This melodic material is developed, building to small climaxes, before the work settles into a reposed conclusion.
Lyric Trio for Trumpet, Cello, and Piano, Op. 710 (2007) was commissioned by The Commission Project. The piece was brought about through the inspiration of a consortium comprising Colby Cooman, Chris Gekker, and the Orenunn Trio. The work is cast in six movements. In the notes accompanying the published score of this work, it is described in general terms as an “American travelogue,” allowing the performers and listeners to form their own images. However, in the context of this recording, it can be revealed that, for me, the piece is about Nantucket. Specifically, it is a collection of images from the summer of 1997, particularly a series of memorable kayak and bicycle excursions into parts of the island that I had never before visited. The overall tone throughout is one of singing lyricism—a sense of “songs without words” pervades much of the writing. Melodic lyricism takes all sorts of forms in this work, ranging from long-breathed melodies to shorter, more fragmentary ones. Red Darkness begins the work with blazing color. Focused repetitions of pitches continue to dissolve into lyrical, yet tense, interludes. The Thousand Candles is a passionate meditation on the trumpet’s opening melody. Windswept is a brief scherzo and flies by quickly. Whispering Wings begins slowly and spaciously. A more active middle section interrupts before the opening material returns, though this time with a bit more momentum. Towards Light is a vibrant spark of energy—with a bit of the spirit of a barn dance. Let Evening Come takes it title from a poem of American poet Jane Kenyon (1947–95). A spirit of lyrical acceptance in the midst of a vivid landscape pervades this movement, which draws the work to a contemplative, yet affirmative close.
Sankaty Dreaming (String Quartet No. 4), Op. 461 (2002) was written in memory of all those whose lives have been claimed by the sea. The title of the work refers to Sankaty Bluff. Atop the bluff sits one of the island’s three lighthouses. The lighthouse was of crucial importance to ships traveling by the island to warn of the dangerous shoals. In recent years, the bluff itself has suffered severe erosion from the sea with homes on it, and eventually the lighthouse itself, needing to be moved. Behind the bluff lies a landscape of much lower altitude—thus when the bluff eventually erodes fully, the entire landscape of the island will change when the sea “claims” back a huge amount of land. It is this imagery and inspiration which drives this work in two movements. The first movement, Capriccio, opens with a hammered chord that serves as the basis for much of the musical material of the work. In a sense, this returning rhythmic figuration represents the lighthouse’s flashing beam, piercing a rough ocean landscape. The second movement, Elegy and Arias, is calm and reposed. There is sadness and darkness—an ocean landscape at night. At the end, the first movement’s opening hammer-chord returns, although this time it is as a more distant, bell-like foghorn. Under it, one last aria is sung as the work fades to silence.
Flying Machine, Op. 775 (2008), for orchestra, was commissioned by the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra in celebration of two anniversaries: the orchestra’s 200th season and James Yannatos’s 45th anniversary as conductor. The work is dedicated to James Yannatos in celebration of his eightieth birthday and his years of distinguished activity as conductor, composer, and mentor. The music is joyous in spirit, inspired by a sense of discovery and fulfillment—the exhilaration that comes from knowledge well-used. The poetic image is taken from the age of the invention of flight, and particularly the exhilaration one can experience when a familiar landscape suddenly turns into something wondrously unfamiliar upon seeing it from the vantage point of the air. I experienced this on several occasions when schedule necessitated flying (rather than taking the ferry) to and from Nantucket. The small scale of the island means that, from the air, one can take it in (like a living map) in a single view. The piece’s opening section is “workshop/construction” music—filled with a sense of unfolding, building, and assembly. The musical material is presented in a series of overlapping guises; the rest of the work unfolds from these ideas. As the music gathers energy, the barn door is finally opened, and the behemoth is rolled out. After a pregnant pause, the music of flight begins, soaring and energetic.
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COOMAN, C.: Nantucket Dreaming (Bohuslav Martinu P...