Symphony No. 6 (manuscript)
I have known Andy Mast since I entered the University of Iowa as a freshman music major in 1987. Since then, Andy has become one of my closest friends. He is a fantastic musician, a gifted conductor, a wonderful father, and, to put it very simply, a great person. It is truly an honor to know him. And it is an even greater honor to have been asked to write music for him on two occasions. The first resulted in my Grant Them Eternal Rest, a piece which was extraordinarily personal for me and would not have been possible without Andy’s faith in my ideas. When Andy asked me to write a piece for the Lawrence University Wind Ensemble, I knew that he trusted me and that I had leeway to write whatever I wanted without expectation or pressure of any sort.
When we first discussed the piece, Andy suggested the idea of a concerto for wind ensemble, something that would feature all of the sections of the Lawrence University Wind Ensemble. Although I ended up writing a symphony, I tried to keep that initial concept in mind, writing a piece in which (hopefully) almost all of the members of the ensemble are featured at some point.
The symphony is presented in one continuous structure that includes the traditional four movements of a symphony, connected by three transition sections. The musical materials for the entire work are all based on an artificial scale, initially presented in the first movement as C, Db, Eb, F, G, A, Bb, C. A second theme used throughout the symphony is a descending (and slightly altered) version of the artificial scale initially presented as C, Bb, A, G, Db, Eb, F, C. This tune is also presented at a “macro” level as the tonal center for each of the seven sections of the symphony (four movements and three transitions). Additionally, each time the tonal center shifts, it is treated as a mode change rather than a key change, allowing each of the sections of the symphony to have their own character. The form of each of the four individual movements is always the same (ABABA) and the intervening transition sections all feature the percussion section in combination with a wind soloist in the ensemble.
Despite all of the structural relationships described above, the symphony is really about transformation and emergence from darkness into light. The opening notes of the introduction begin mysteriously at the very bottom of the ensemble in the contrabassoon and ascend in a sort of primal scream, eventually leading into a threatening, angry, and aggressive first movement. After a transition featuring the trombone, this aggressiveness gives way to a second movement scherzo that is more sarcastic, still angry, but with an edgy humor to it. The second transition section features the alto saxophone over pulsating drums, eventually tapering into the third movement, which really represents the moment of metamorphosis, with the emergence of a melody of hope and love that is initially presented by a lengthy horn solo. The third transition section follows, featuring the flute in a variation on the first transition section. The final movement is triumphant, but not in an overtly happy way; instead, it is a triumph of strength and celebration that brings the symphony to a powerful close.