Light Cathedral is inspired by the many great European cathedrals that I have been fortunate enough to visit during my three years living in England, with their paradoxical combination of massiveness and lightness. The guiding image is of a massive structure, heavy and earthbound; yet instead of stones or bricks, the building blocks are shafts of colorful light, weightless and floating.
The piece opens with three bell-like strikes, which become the starting chord in a kaleidoscopically evolving prism of high, resonant harmonies – shafts of colored light, blocks of luminous, weightless granite forming the structure of the building. High string notes emerge and float above, and a plaintive melody emerges from the winds. This same material returns later, dramatically speeded up – we have zoomed in and see all the rich detail of the mosaics and frescos, the whizzing protons that populate the shafts of light. Later it comes back low and deep, as we journey underground to the foundations and the crypt. This material alternates with gradually rising string chords that reappear at a range of different tempos, imperceptibly ascending from earth to the heavens; and a mysterious, vertiginous wind chorale representing the central awe-inspiring dome of the cathedral.
Rather than mimicking the physical structure of a cathedral, the work evokes the psychological journey of the cathedral’s. We begin outside taking in the entire massive structure. We move inside, investigating the detail on the floor and the walls, visiting the crypt, gazing up in wonder at the dome. Finally, after the most prolonged, climactic return of the dome wind chorale material, replete with swirling harp and piano arpeggios and the rising string chords sucked into the vortex as well, the music turns inward to our subjective emotional experience of the structure. The chromatic progressions from the opening are transmuted into gentle diatonicism. The spare, plaintive wind melodies build into overlapping, yearning string melodies. The music winds down over an ever-descending bass line dirge. Just as it bottoms out, five more bell tolls awaken us from our reverie. We are back where we began, standing outside the cathedral, blinking in the sunlight.
Light Cathedral is scored for:
- English horn
- clarinet/bass clarinet
Jonathan Russell is a composer, clarinetist, conductor, and educator, whose work has been hailed as “incredibly virtuosic, rocking, and musical” (San Francisco Classical Voice) and “a fantastically distorted perpetual motion of awesome” (I Care If You Listen). Especially known for his innovative bass clarinet and clarinet ensemble compositions, his works for bass clarinet duo, bass clarinet quartet, bass clarinet soloists, and clarinet ensembles have been performed around the world and are radically expanding the technical and stylistic possibilities of these genres. Jonathan has received commissions from ensembles such as the San Francisco Symphony, Peninsula Symphony, Symphony Number One, Imani Winds, Empyrean Ensemble, ADORNO Ensemble, Woodstock Chamber Orchestra, Wild Rumpus, New Keys, and the Great Noise Ensemble, and performances from numerous other ensembles and performers. His works are published by Potenza Music Publishing, BCP Music, and Peer Music, and his music has been recorded by the Sqwonk bass clarinet duo, the Kairos Consort, pianist Jeffrey Jacob, The Living Earth show, Imani Winds, the Twiolins, and the NakedEye Ensemble.
Jonathan approaches performing with the same intensity and omnivorous appetite as composing. Originally trained as a classical clarinetist, he also plays klezmer and Balkan music, freely improvises, and is especially known for his unique and innovative approach to the bass clarinet. He has been a member of two ground-breaking bass clarinet chamber ensembles: the heavy metal-inspired Edmund Welles bass clarinet quartet and the Sqwonk bass clarinet duo, which has commissioned numerous new works and released three albums. He has appeared as soloist with the Hudson Valley Philharmonic, the West Point Military Academy Band, the Princeton University Orchestra, Harvard’s Bach Society Orchestra, the Woodstock Chamber Orchestra, the San Francisco Composers Chamber Orchestra, the Great Noise Ensemble, the NakedEye Ensemble, the Omaha Symphonic Winds, and the Peninsula Symphony, among others. He is also co-founder of the Switchboard Music Festival, an annual marathon concert of the San Francisco Bay Area’s most creative and innovative composers and performers. Jonathan frequently conducts his own compositions, as well as premieres of works by student and emerging composers.
A dedicated and creative educator, he has served on the Music Theory Faculty at San Francisco Conservatory and on the Composition Faculty at the Conservatory’s Adult Extension and Preparatory Divisions. He has given lectures and workshops at universities and conservatories throughout the United States and Europe on his own compositions and new approaches to music theory. He also frequently gives bass clarinet and klezmer master classes, both on his own and with Sqwonk. Jonathan has served as Music Director for four highly acclaimed dance productions with choreographers Janice Garrett and Charles Moulton. His work on their June 2011 production, The Experience of Flight in Dreams, earned him a nomination for an Isadora Duncan Dance Award in the category of “Outstanding Achievement in Music/Sound/Text.”
Learn more at jonrussellmusic.com.
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