Prayers of Rain & Wind (2007) for solo contrabass & orchestra
2(2=alto, picc.)2(2=e.h)2(2=bass cl.)2 2200 timp., 2 perc., cel./pno., hp., strings
(*optional chorus may be added in movement II)
"A high spatter of sound opened the concerto’s first movement, marked “Summer Rain.” The movement’s evocation of muggy Savannah gave way to “Hymn,” in which the Richmond Symphony Chorus offered a haunting offstage echo of the African-American Baptist musical traditions of Conyers’ childhood. Finally, in “Stormwinds,” all hell broke — deliciously — loose. Prayers carried not a hint of the perfunctory, and offered — in the spirit of jolting old clichés to new life — a breath of fresh air.”
Anne Timberlake, Richmond Times Dispatch
Prayers of Rain and Wind is dedicated to my friend, double bassist Joseph Conyers, and his loves of music and weather. Built on material ranging from Brahms first violin sonata (with the serendipitous but little known nickname of the ‘Rain’ sonata and a favorite of both myself and Mr. Conyers) to jazz, French orchestral music and church hymns. The work unfolds during the three movements to reveal connections between the varied musics, reflecting the complex musical biography of a musician such as Conyers.
The first movement, Summer Rain (Fantasia), evokes an oppressively humid east!coast summer day (Savannah in July, or Philadelphia for that matter) where the only respite from the heat could come from a cool afternoon rain. The second movement, Lined Hymn, is an instrumental imagining of a lined hymn as sung in many Southern African!American church traditions. The congregation, or orchestra here, follows the leader, in this case the solo bass, improvising the hymn and humming underneath the prayer (cadenza). A hurricane serves as the inspiration of the final movement, Stormwinds (Scherzo), whose winds are both terrifyingly violent and thrilling. The eye of the storm gives way to a final prayer (“Great is Thy Faithfulness”, a favorite of Joseph Conyers’ mother) and cadenza to pick up the pieces. Out of the cadenza the storm returns in a finale in which the fear of nature yields to a celebration of being alive.
The work was commissioned and first performed by the Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra with Joseph Conyers as soloist on January 3rd 2008.
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