For: soprano and orchestra
18 March 2005
Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, Troy, New York
Margaret Lloyd, soprano / Albany Symphony Orchestra / David Alan Miller
Recording: Pentecost can be found on the release, strawberry fields
Pentecost was originally commissioned in 1997 by a forward looking priest, Fr. Dan Pakenham, from Elm Grove, Wisconsin, who wanted a piece of music for his parish's newly installed organ. The composition used organ, augmented by a string orchestra, and front-lined by the soprano soloist, Margaret Lloyd. The text came from the New Testament; the second chapter of Acts.
In 2004, David Alan Miller, looking for a companion piece for his Albany Symphony Orchestra's recording of my one act opera Strawberry Fields, accepted my idea of replacing the organ part with winds and brass, bringing the accompaniment for the soprano to full orchestra, thus increasing the color possibilities, and perhaps making the piece slightly more feasible to program in the future.
Pentecost is a Christian festival on the seventh Sunday after Easter, celebrating the decent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles. I have used Biblical texts for all of my non-dramatic works, but I was always exclusive to poetic, secular passages in the Old Testament (I've used Proverbs, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Solomon). After being drawn in these verses to the wild imagery of visions and dreams; of the sun and moon turning to blood and darkness, which struck me as having an Old Testament ring, I discovered that St. Peter was quoting the prophet Joel, dating back to 400 B.C.!
The first and third movements use simple melodies to present the text in a straightforward way. Then, as I make small canons with the melody notes, the syllables of the words go along for the ride and get scrambled up. When the words reassemble in their correct order, we hear the concomitant reconfirmation of the theme.
While orchestrating and fine tuning these outer movements, I decided to throw out the old second movement, and brought in an ancient Maori chant theme to try to illuminate the original text. Traditional Maori songs have a single melody repeated over and over with ever unfolding new text. I have used a principle before (Yellow Pages, 1985) of reiterating the same notes of a melody, but always changing the key signature, causing the melody to shift ever so slightly. The result can have a haunting effect.
Here are the verses used.
I. And It Shall Come to Pass
And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh:
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams. (Acts 2:17)
II. And I Will Show Wonders
And I will show wonders in heaven above,
and signs in the earth below;
blood, and fire, and cloud of smoke:
The sun shall be turned into darkness,
and the moon into blood,
before that great and notable day of the Lord comes. (Acts 2: 19-20)
III. Whosoever Shall Call
And it shall come to pass,
that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved. (Acts 2:21)