Heading: for orchestra
August 5, 2016
Saratoga Performing Arts Center
Saratoga Springs, New York
Saratoga marked a milestone 50 years ago when it built (under the direction of George Balanchine and Eugene Ormandy) the Performing Arts Center, though it was known for centuries for its healing waters, and since the mid-1880s as a luxury destination for summering and tourism. The race course, the oldest in the country, began in 1864. This location inspired Spencer Trask to build his mansion-Yaddo, which is today an esteemed arts colony. But to think If it weren’t for the decisive events of 1777, not only might not Saratoga be what it is today, but the U.S. itself may not even exist!
For the battles won at Saratoga were the turning point of the Revolutionary War, when, after General Burgoyne surrendered his British army, France entered the war, and her support was crucial to the eventual victory, establishing our independence.
For me, music is constructed out of a personal impulse–I want the melody to go here, I want the chords to go there–and I discover what it “means,” if it means anything, after forms take shape. The music that came out, in four strands, which eventually became the piece’s four movements, all had a curious lack of cynicism, a sense of valor, a spirit, a tone of American optimism. If thought of in terms of a noble call to arms, the music had more vividness, to my ears. Although the style of this music couldn’t be called Romantic, it seems to have feeling , mixed with a kind of guarded dignity (as opposed to what some deplore, considering romantic music to be nothing more than gushy, smaltzy narcissism.)
The title speaks of Saratoga’s victory – an “invictus” – a resolve to stand strong. Summon, the first movement, is a muster; the call to assemble the forces. Dawn speaks of when battles are often initiated, the time of day is dewy and fresh, when an attack would be a surprise. Advance is like a symphony’s Scherzo movement, three minutes of energy moving forward. And Liberty is the result of the triumph of the Continental Army; freedom from British tyranny and rule. There are no battle scenes depicted in this score, only an expression of the moods conjured by these themes.
I am grateful to Charles and Candace Wait for their support of this composition, and to SPAC for wanting to commemorate their anniversary with a new piece of orchestral music, and to The Philadelphia Orchestra for committing their resources to realize it in performance.