…Right at the Moment…
The 100th meridian runs from pole to pole, 100 degrees longitude west of the prime meridian in Greenwich, England. It cuts through six U.S. states forming a partial boundary between Oklahoma and Texas. Moving west from the Mississippi, one leaves the lushness of the great river valley and enters the west, the land of the arid and dry prairie. This is where I will begin to draw inspiration for an orchestra work entitled, Prairie Music. The movements will be descriptive: A Cloudless Sky, The Restlessness of Wind, Ghost Dance, and Thundering Hooves. I have traveled many times through the prairie from the midwest to the southwest and each time I am overwhelmed by the scale of the landscape; a landscape that gradually, almost imperceivably, changes from lust green to golden brown moving east to west. In 2018 I gave a short talk entitled The 100th Meridian West as an introduction to the September 15th Out of Our Minds Chamber series concert, Wild & Western in La Crosse, WI. Learning about both perspectives on how the land was to be settled brought awareness of the contrasting forces that permeate the great plains and I know it will be the foundation of contrast in my music.
These pictures were taken 10 miles outside of Elkhart, OK, in the Rita Blanca National Grasslands on the way to Santa Fe, NM. Here vanishing point on the horizon appears to be endless and stretches of grass surround you.
The wind is constant, ranging from gentle whisps to an incessant force of varying degrees. When, suddenly the wind is still for a few seconds, the sonic background of chirping and clicking emerges from the omnipresent crickets and grasshoppers.
Here the grandeur of cumulonimbus clouds is made even more resplendent against the broad sky that is vast and wide.
Distances are deceiving and the scale is so vast. Time unfolds on a larger scale and the time it takes to approach a distant object is always underestimated.
The 100th Meridian West (I gave this talk as an introduction to the September 15th Out of Our Minds Chamber series concert, Wild & Western.
This evening we are listening to music that depicts two different views of the American West, two contrasting visions: The Romantic legend of the cowboy and the heroic endurance of immigrant settlers. The Romance of settling the west is part of the continuing promise of the American Dream. But, as always, the Dream has a price.
The 100th meridian runs from pole to pole, 100 degrees longitude west of the prime meridian in Greenwich, England. It cuts through six U.S. states forming a partial boundary between Oklahoma and Texas. Moving west from the Mississippi, one leaves the lushness of the great river valley and enters the west, the land of the arid and dry prairie.
In the late 1860s after the Civil War was over, the Union Pacific Railroad succeeded in connecting the two coasts by rail. What a better way to ensure ridership and use of the rail than to have the US government encourage settlement. The Homestead Act of 1862 was providing settlers with 160 acres of public land. This act led to a massive influx of new and inexperienced farmers across the Great Plains.
Two men of this era, William Gilpin and John Wesley Powell had opposite views of how the settlement of the west would unfold.
What began as the Great American Desert evolved into a golden promised land from the oratory of Gilpin and the broadsides of land companies and the railroad companies who would profit from the influx of settlers. The scene was set. The Indian Wars had been won and the land was safe to occupy.
“Indian Land for Sale, Get a Home of Your Own, Easy Payments, Fine Lands in the West, Irrigated, Grazing, Agricultural Dairy Farming.”
“Nebraska, The Garden of the West, 50 Million Acres Grain and Grazing Land”
John Wesley Powell, the famous explorer who successfully navigated through the Grand Canyon, on the other hand, made the most significant contribution in understanding the geology of the west. He was opposite in character than Gilpin. He was an unassuming scientist. Trained as a U.S. soldier and geologist, he was an explorer of the American West,, The most important document was Powell’s Report on the Lands of the Arid Region of the United States. Powell was successful because he studied the science of the land and contemplated the best possible use of the resources in the west.
Because he knew that access to water was important, he proposed that regions of the west be designated a “commonwealth” for the purpose of regulating its water usage, which would remain under federal control without regard to state lines.
In contrast, William Gilpin, interpreted the idea of a Manifest Destiny with a passionate vision. He resisted methodical factual investigation and introduced fantasy into geography and his influence in the American government’s inter policy ultimate had a negative effect.
Well there isn’t much rain out west. There is not enough rain to grow crops and so additional water has to be brought in. So, the odds were strongly in favor of failure for the homesteader that borrowed money to farm. It took a super man to survive and two thirds failed and because the homestead act provided no government loans, often the banks and large corporations ultimately owned the land and controlled the water. Now fast forward to the 1930’s:
By 1934, an estimated 35 million acres of formerly cultivated land had been rendered useless for farming.
The Dust Bowl was the name given to the drought-stricken Southern Plains region of the United States, which suffered severe dust storms during a dry period in the 1930s. As high winds and choking dust swept the region from Texas to Nebraska, people and livestock were killed and crops failed across the entire region and many farming families left on a desperate migration in search of work and better conditions.
The worst dust storm occurred on April 14, 1935. News reports called the event Black Sunday. A wall of blowing sand and dust started in the Oklahoma Panhandle and spread east. As many as three million tons of topsoil were estimated to have blown off the Great Plains during Black Sunday.
Roughly 2.5 million people left the Dust Bowl states during the 1930s. It was the largest migration in American history. So, what began as a land rush resulted in many defeated people leaving.
But who stayed and toughed it out?
The immigrants: We know they were a from diverse ethic groups. Just listen this list of towns in Kansas alone.
French Swiss Neuchatel
German Swiss Bern
German Humboldt & Berlin to name a few
Bohemian/Czech Prag & Pilsen
Most had come so far and journeyed for so long that there was no going back.
They had to adopt to new agricultural methods and crops, to survive and they probably attended a church that duplicated ones they left behind in Europe. So, their flexibility and faith sustained them.
And what a better way to sing the praises of these survivors than through art. Libby Larsen’s piece, My Antoina, brings Willa Cather’s novel and the experience of the Nebraska prairie to life. It was published in 1918 and was considered one of Cather’s best works and quickly became a fitting elegy to those whose persistence and strength helped build the American frontier and tame the Wild West.
Giacomo Dalla Libera has created a very compelling program for solo piano entitled “Between Centuries”. This program is really a feast for the ears: lyric romanticism, followed by enchanting impressionism, and finishing with the rhythmic sensualism of my six tangos for piano. I am so thrilled!
On the way to the premiere of High on a Mountain…a piece dedicated to my niece, Sarah and inspired by many things including the Great Smoky Mountains. Enroute, I’ll stop at Clingman’s Dome (6,646ft), the highest point in the park!
SOUNDBOARD Magazine Review of Out of Darkness into Light on the newly released CD Waking the Sparrows:
William Neil’s phantasmagorical Out of Darkness into Light, is a twenty-four-minute dramatic scena of operatic weight, if not length. (Neil was, for a time, composer-in-residence at the Chicago Lyric Opera.) The text is by art restorer Malgosia Sawczuk, who wrote it while working in a Chicago church, while pregnant. Trust me, the text is illuminating and powerful regarding both of these experiences. The Duo (Rob Nathanson, guitar and Nancy King, soprano, is joined by violinist Danijela Zezelj-Gualdi and by Laurent Estoppey on a variety of saxophones. Helena Kopchick Spencer on bassoons, and the composer on “digital acoutstics.” As you can imagine, the range of sonic experiences is astounding but always illuminates the music and the drama. Soprano Nancy King is extraordinary. This is a work that cries out for performance whenever the musical forces and an open-minded audience can be found. -Al Kunze SOUNDBOARD
A Conversation with Fàtima Boix
April 15, 2019
I first discovered Fàtima Boix in 2017 when looking for E-flat clarinet repertoire on various social media platforms. Having heard the original William Neil concerto as recorded by John Bruce Yeh and Chicago Pro Musica in the late 1980s, I was excited to see that someone had commissioned an adaptation for chamber orchestra. Fàtima’s video clip from her performance at the Music Academy of the West was fantastic. Through further correspondence, I’ve learned that she is a great advocate for the E-flat clarinet in solo and chamber music settings, as well as a great symphony musician. Check out her interview below to learn about her background as an E-flat clarinetist, and how she continues to add to the E-flat clarinet repertoire!
JF: What was your first experience with the E-flat clarinet? Did you want to play it, or was it assigned to you?
FB: I had some experience with this instrument before, but if I remember right, I started playing it more often around the year 2007 with my clarinet quartet at the conservatory in Spain. We decided to perform Histoire du Tango by Piazzolla at a competition and I chose the E-flat clarinet part.
JF: Did you receive instruction on auxiliary clarinets? If so, what was most helpful? If not, what did you discover in your own practice that might help others?
FB: The first time I had piccolo clarinet lessons was around 2010, since I studied one year with Marja Kopakkala (the former E-flat clarinetist at the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra) at the Sibelius Academy. I always felt quite comfortable with the instrument, but I must admit that in the beginning it was very challenging (well, it still is!). It got better through the years; for me it has been a matter of time to get used to the characteristics of the instrument. I learnt a lot simply by playing it, not only orchestra literature but anything else, from clarinet pieces to etudes. This instrument has always forced me to deal with issues such intonation, sound or support in a different way than on the Bb or A clarinet, so it requires a lot of deep listening, physical education, flexibility and patience…basically like any other instrument!
JF: When did you start commissioning works? How many pieces for E-flat have you commissioned and/or premiered?
FB: The first one was “Dreaming of a spaceless time…” by my friend J. L. Gómez Aleixandre, that I premiered at my Master’s Final Exam in 2016. In 2017, I premiered the Concerto for Piccolo Clarinet and orchestra by William Neil. On March 6th of this year, I premiered “Shrieking Nature”, a piece for E-flat Clarinet, electronics and video, written by Riikka Talvitie. At the moment I am planning few more commissions thanks to support of the Finnish Cultural Foundation.
JF: How did the William Neil concerto adaptation come about? How did you come across the original piece, and what led to the string arrangement?
FB: It all started when I found the recording of the chamber version on Youtube. I immediately fell in love with the piece and made a request to the Sibelius Academy Library to purchase the score. I had the feeling that I would play it soon. I got in touch with Mr. Neil via email and, since I got accepted at the Music Academy of the West in California that summer, I decided to enter its Concerto Competition with this piece. Unfortunately, the Academy only accepted Concertos with full orchestra, so it was then when Mr. Neil suggested to create the orchestral arrangement for this occasion. It happened so, that I won the competition, so that allowed me to premiere it at the Granada Theatre in Santa Barbara.
JF: What’s one of your favorite pieces to play on E-flat? What’s one of the most challenging pieces for you on E-flat?
FB: Basically, all the orchestra pieces that have an E-flat part or solo! It is always a pleasure for me to play this instrument, especially inside the orchestra. I find specially challenging to play Mahler symphonies, like the 1st or 7th, where the E-flat clarinet has to wait for long parts of the piece and suddenly play something very delicate in high register, for example.
In fact, I find every piece on the E-flat challenging, but I enjoy it so much that somehow it doesn’t feel so hard!
JF: What advice do you have for clarinetists wanting to commission and perform new works?
FB: My advice would be, first of all, finding what moves you to commission a piece for a certain instrument and what do you want to “say”. Be creative and trust your musical ideas. Commissioning is about inspiring someone to create something that is not “existing” yet (so many possibilities!), so it requires some sort of vision and determination in what you do… I also recommend working together with composers, for me it has been very interesting and rewarding.
Fàtima Boix Cantó
Born in Alicante (Spain), she has studied mainly in Spain and Finland, where she graduated from the Sibelius Academy of Helsinki, under the guidance of Harri Mäki, Olli Leppäniemi and Christoffer Sundqvist.
Fàtima has performed in halls like the Lincoln Center (New York), the Berliner Philharmonie and Suntory Hall (Tokyo) and has played in various festivals as Luosto Classic, Crusell Week, Helsinki Festival, Ny Musik Teater, artArctica (Finland), Aurora Chamber Music (Sweden), Usedomer Music Festival (Germany), Pacific Music Festival (Japan) and Music Academy of the West (USA). She has premiered pieces by composers like Lauri Supponen, Sebastian Hilli, Sergio Castrillón, José Luis Gómez Aleixandre and William Neil and has recorded for the Finnish National Radio YLE.
She is a versatile musician interested in a variety of styles, from classical to contemporary music, but also free improvisation, electroacoustic music and interdisciplinary arts. She has played with a wide number of ensembles, including the Oulu Symphony Orchestra, the Tapiola Sinfonietta, the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, the Danish National Symphony Orchestra, the Finnish National Opera Orchestra and the Lahti Symphony Orchestra.
In July 2017, she premiered the Concerto for Piccolo Clarinet and Orchestra by William Neil in Santa Barbara (California), after winning the Music Academy of the West Concerto Competition.
Currently, Fàtima holds the Second and E-flat Clarinet position at the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra.
YouTube: Fatima Boix