Spirit Voices

Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra

Steven Stucky

Publisher: Merion Music, Inc.
Print Status: Rental

Quick Overview

When percussionist Evelyn Glennie asked me to write a concerto for her to play with orchestra, almost immediately my thoughts turned toward opportunities for exotic colors and refined effects. For one thing, while her technical prowess is of course legendary, it is her wonderful sense of touch and color that has always most impressed me most. For another, there are already plenty of percussion pieces from the bang-on-everything-in-sight school, and I did not feel the need to add to that tradition, nor to compete with some very impressive concertos of that type already in existence. In addition, as a confirmed partisan of the modern orchestra, I needed to find a way for the orchestra to be far more than merely a backdrop for the soloist, to be instead an equal partner in creating fantastic sound-worlds.

The idea of ?spirit voices? ? sounding manifestations of gods and other supernatural beings ? provides for a wide variety of colors, effects, and moods. Each of the seven short movements (which are played without pause) stems from a different folk or religious tradition. The musical visions they present are not meant to represent the original cultures that inspired them, however; there is no folk music here, nor any evocation of ?authenticity.? Instead, I have used each god or spirit or creature as a spark to fire my own imagination, in my own musical style. Ironically, in the process of realizing seven different sound visions, in the end I have in fact asked Evelyn to bang on nearly everything in sight, and there is plenty of loud music over the work?s 21-minute course, too.

Spirit Voices was co-commissioned for Evelyn Glennie by the Singapore Symphony and the Aspen Music Festival and School. The world premiere took place in Singapore on 14 and 15 November 2003 under Music Director Lan Shui, while the American premiere is planned for summer 2005 in Aspen.

I. Jiu huang ye (Southeast Asia). The Nine Emperor Gods are star deities who control the nine planets of our solar system, and they constitute the most popular spirit-medium cult within the Taoist pantheon in the region of Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand. The Jiu huang ye are celebrated in an annual festival during the first nine days of the ninth lunar month, including the raucous, martial-arts lion dance (wushu).

II. Bean nighe (Scotland). The Washer of the Fords, a female wraith who washes blood-stained clothes when someone in the neighborhood is about to die, especially in battle. She haunts desolated lakes and streams, and she is the counterpart of the Irish bean-sidhe (banshee). A similar figure, the cadineag, caonieag, or caointeach, may be heard weeping in the darkness near a waterfall before catastrophe strikes a local clan.

III. Ellyllon (Wales). Tiny, diaphanous creatures ruled over by Queen Mab, the ellyllon are benevolent Welsh elves. (The singular form is ellyll). Like brownies, they will help out with household chores; also like brownies, they will leave the house if they are offended, or if their privacy is invaded.

IV. Te Mangoroa (Maori). The Long Shark, or in English, the Milky Way. These are the ?people in the sky? whose task it is to foretell the coming of day.

V. Coyote (Navajo and many other Native American Indian traditions). According to the Navajo creation myth, the Milky Way was created by the mischievous behavior of the trickster god, Coyote. Coyote?s character is greedy, vain, foolish, cunning, and occasionally displaying a high degree of power.

VI. Tengu (Japan). Originally long-billed bird-spirits, they are a race of evil mountain goblins known for their ferocity. These giants have wings, large claws, red ugly faces, a long beak, feathers, long hair, and a stormy temperament. These devils often harass people, playing jokes on them, spiriting away children, tormenting the Buddhist priests who came to the mountains to study them. Those who meet them become insane.

VII. Wah?Kon-Tah (native American traditions). The Great Sprit or Great Mystery, supreme being in many native American traditions; in some tribes, WakanTanka (the Breath Giver). According to the Wabanaki Algonquin Big Thunder, ?The Great Spirit is in all things, he is in the air we breathe. The Great Spirit is our Father, the Earth is our Mother.?

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Additional Information

Commission Commissioned by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra for its inaugural season at its new performing home, Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay; and by the Aspen Music Festival and School, David Zinman, Music Director
Composition Date 2003
Duration 00:21:00
Orchestration Solo Perc.; 3(dbl. 2Picc., dbl.AltoFl.) 3(dbl.E.H.) 3(dbl.B.Cl.) 3(Cbsn.) - 4 3(dbl.Picc.) 3 1; Hp. Str.
Premiere 14 November 2003, by Evelyn Glennie, percussion soloist, with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Music Director Lan Shui.


I. Jiu huang ye
II. Bean nighe
III. Ellyllon
IV. Te Mangoroa
V. Coyote
IV. Tengu
VII. Wah'Kon-Tah

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