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  • Duration 20 min
  • Year 2002
  • Instrumentation picc, 3 fl, 3 ob, english hrn, Eb cl, 2 Bb cl, bass cl, 3 bsn, contra bsn, 5 hrn, 4 trp, 3 trb, bass trb, tuba, harp, piano/celesta double, timp, 4 Perc
  • Commissioned by the New York Philharmonic
  • Publisher C. Alan Publications

Hemispheres: I. Genesis, II. Earth Canto, III. Rajas
New York Philharmonic, Kurt Masur conducting


Program Notes

When Kurt Masur commissioned me to compose a work for his farewell concert with the New York Philharmonic he requested that it be exclusively for winds. Composing a piece for one half of the orchestra became the inspiration for the title Hemispheres (defined as one of two half spheres formed by a plane through the spheres center). Hemispheres would become the metaphor for a piece written in three movements, with the middle movement, like an equator dividing the larger halves.

While composing, I began to explore the concept of the hemisphere and how individual parts come together forming a larger more perfect whole.The idea of a sphere, a circle, the earth, evolution, the cycle, the journey, and returning to the origin seem to take hold. I thought how every culture has beliefs about creation and that somehow they are all based on a similar idea - that of returning to the origin, the full circle. Through my research on this subject I became most interested in three particular stories of creation all from very diverse cultures: The western (1.Genesis), American Indian (2. Earth Canto), and Hindu (3. Rajas). These stories became the motivation for Hemispheres in that the music itself also takes on a cyclical form with reoccurring themes throughout and short motifs that develop into larger groups.

Much of the music was complete by the time the horrific events of September 11, 2001 had occurred. Although there was more composing to be done, these events had a profound effect not only on me, but consequently, on the music as well. I began to look at the piece from a completely different perspective. As I continued writing, I decided to expand previous sections, cut, refine, and add new material until the work took on a new shape - something larger and more potent. What had started out as three culturally diverse stories coming together into one larger unison had now become a homage to life, earth, creation and the divine forces that drive the sphere of existence. In the shadow of September 11, 2001, I realized that I had written a memorial piece. Not as a melancholy elegy, as one might expect, but a work that is driving, forceful, exuberant, and a celebration of life itself.

The following quotes and narratives are the inspiration for each of the movements.

1. Genesis
Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements? Surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? To what were its foundations fastened? Or who laid its cornerstone, When the morning stars sang together, And all the sons of God shouted for joy?
The Book of Job / 38:4-7)

After a violent opening, the music accelerates into the main theme with staccato brass outlined by running woodwind passages. The second theme occurs in the form of a chorale (this chorale also reappears in the third movement). After the chorale section the music returns to a more pointillistic style with spiked chords and short melodic bursts. The movement builds to a climax with a stately ostinato and turns into a series of explosive clusters. The percussion carries the movement to it's close, as one last explosion of open fifths slowly fades away into nothingness.

2. Earth Canto
In the beginning of the world, all was water. The Great Chief lived in the sky alone. When he decided to make the world, he went down to the shallow places in the water and threw up great handfuls of mud that became land. He piled some of the mud so high that it froze hard and became the mountains. The Great Chief made trees grow on earth, and also roots and berries. He made man out of a ball of mud and told him to take fish from the waters and deer and other game from the forests. But in spite of all the things the Great Chief did for them, the new people quarreled. They bickered so much that Mother Earth was angry and she shook the mountains so hard that they fell on to the earth. Many people were killed and buried under the rocks and mountains.Someday the Great Chief will overturn those mountains. Then the spirits that once lived in the bones buried there will go back into them. At present those spirits live on the tops of the mountains, watching their children on earth and waiting for the great change which is to come. The voices of these spirits can be heard in the mountains at all times. No one knows when the Great Chief will overturn the mountains. We do know that the spirits will return only to the remains of people who in life, kept the beliefs of their grandfathers. Only their bones will be preserved under the mountains. ("Creation of the Yakima World" from Indian Legends of the Pacific Northwest by Ella E. Clark)

A slow soft pyramid of notes opens this movement. Following this, are woodwind chords, punctuated by the piano (these two elements return many times throughout the movement). The bassoons introduce a ground bass over which the upper woodwinds play a sensuous cadenza like melody. In contrast, there are brass clusters which interject from time to time. The second half of the movement is introduced with a shimmering ostinato for the harp and celesta, and over this, the solo woodwinds spin a melodic phrase in the form of a cannon. With a gliss of the harp, the movement becomes more staccato. The brass and woodwinds throw clusters back and forth and there is a crescendo building to a climax, consisting of a pyramid of tones very much like the opening bars of this movement. These tones are based on the material from the previous woodwind cannon. There is one last series of clusters in the brass, with woodwind chords and piano interjecting once again, followed by a short clarinet solo. The harp returns to it's previous ostinato material but now in a more elongated form. Solo flute and oboe have one last cadenza, and finally the movement completes itself with one last woodwind chord, a piano arpeggio and the final fermata.

3. Rajas
The world has been created and destroyed many times. In each cycle of creation there was an age of man to accompany it.

the age of Satva (goodness; the golden age): which lasted 4000 years. This was the age in which people were born in pairs, enjoyed life, were never sad, never worried, never wanting for food, never worked and never hated.

the age of Rajas (energy): which lasted 3000 years. This was the age when trees grew and rain fell. The trees became homes and shelter for people and provided them with food. People made sacrifices to the gods. Negative emotions thrived, which led to coveting of material things, stealing and killing.

the 3rd age, (a mixture of the first two): which lasted 2000 years. People suffered much in this age as a result of things said, thought and done. These people became numb from all the suffering. Knowledge became important in this age because it led to ways of relieving the suffering.

the age of Tamas (darkness): people walked in darkness, ignorant and blind to truth. They knew jealousy and hate and killed holy men who attempted to aid them in finding truth. They degenerated and ended up scavenging for food, having a difficult time doing anything. Those who survived the dark age would have a chance at finding peace and getting back some of the golden age of man. (Hindu Creation Myth)

According to Hindu belief, the universe is kept in balance by three qualities. Rajas (the quality of energy and motion) completes the journey of Hemispheres. The movement opens with woodwinds articulating short melodic patterns thrown between low and high registers. As these melodic fragments are developed, the brass accents the landscape with short swelling hits and these ideas germinate into short staccato brass clusters, leading to a pyramid of bell like sonorities. This section cascades into a low repetitive staccato with punctuated crescendos. There is a building of momentum, followed by fragmented bursts in the brass. Over this, the woodwinds spin out an elongated melody related to the final ostinato of the first movement. From this section to the end, there is a series of climaxes which push forever forward. The chorale from the first movement reappears, but now more expanded and potent. Once again, the woodwind motifs that opened this movement return. There is a building of tension leading to a climatic slower section comprised of material from the chorale, only now, more highly developed and contrapuntal. There is one last ostinato region with woodwind scales racing along the perimeter until a final crescendo which thrusts the piece to it's conclusion.

"The other music was Joseph Turrin's ''Hemispheres,'' a new piece commissioned by the New York Philharmonic. ''Hemispheres'' is everything the other two items at this concert were not. Stripped of strings and fully loaded with winds, brass and percussion, Mr. Turrin's music is nervous, loud, swift and aggressive to the point of violence. It is also beautifully made, negotiating its constant changes of speed and pulse with grace. Hemispheres operates in a certain corner of the American mind. Its hard, shiny surfaces are unambiguous and ruminate little if at all. There is an edge of world weariness to Bartok's energies. Mr. Turrin's music is young: no past, only future. Mr. Masur directed all the heavy traffic, but one suspects that most of this performance was turned over to his virtuoso players, knowing that they understood this music better than he."

— Bernard Holland, NEW YORK TIMES (6/1/02)

"That Beethoven would conclude this "Thank You, Kurt Masur" mini festival al- most seemed inevitable. The "Eroica" Symphony can still be a major event when freshly imagined and deeply felt, which is what Masur always strives to do (this music can only sound hackneyed to jaded ears that have heard it mistreated in too many second-rate performances). Ditto for the same composer's Violin Concerto, still a dangerously revolutionary score in the hands of Anne-Sophie Mutter, whose glamour belies the almost Spartan earnestness of her musical personality. Finally, Masur conducted the world premiere of his last Philharmonic commission, Joseph Turrin's Hemispheres. This score comes with a great deal of extra musical imagery -- arcane geometric allusions, references to the earth's diverse cultures, a memento mori for September 11 -- but perhaps it is best heard as a brilliant étude for the Philharmonic's wind, brass, and percussion virtuosos, who responded eagerly to every instrumental challenge."

— Peter G. Davis, NEW YORK MAGAZINE (6/17/02)

"All these philosophical musings receded into the background of a piece that was effective, attractive and well-crafted but fairly square. The three-movement structure adopted the venerable alternation of fast, slow, fast. The rhythms were quick and tricky, but stiff. Crescendos broke off predictably into sudden hushes. But if both Masur and the orchestra visibly loved the piece, it's because Turrin knows how to make a band - especially this band - sound gleaming and limber."

— NEWSDAY (6/3/02)

"Then the concert began, with the world premiere of "Hemispheres" by Joseph Turrin, commissioned in Masur's honor and written, at his request, for the orchestra's non-string instruments. Only fair, therefore, that the strings get their innings as well, which they did in Bartok's "Divertimento for String Orchestra," played with a fine sense of its opening lilt, its introspective slow movement, its biting finale. Turrin, a 55-year-old New Jerseyan whose works encompass film, Broadway, jazz and numerous orchestral commissions, lays out an elaborate verbal scheme for "Hemispheres," involving Christian, Native-American and Hindu views of creation. Like all involved explanations, it doesn't mean anything as much as the music itself - in this case, a lively, colorful, sometimes fragmented three-movement piece that has enough thematic coherence to allow one to follow its logical path despite disruptions and digressions. It starts explosively, but makes way for pleasant passages of flickering flutes. The slow movement is clear-textured and nicely fragile; the finale races headlong and generates real tension. The piece invites a second hearing, and that says a lot."

— NEW YORK POST (6/1/02)

New York Philharmonic Luncheon and Press Conference
January 4, 2001 at 12:15 pm
Grand Promenade of Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center

The New York Philharmonic and Music Director Kurt Masur have recently commissioned composer Joseph Turrin to write a new work. This work will be entitled HEMISPHERES scored for woodwinds, brass, percussion, harp and piano. This new composition at the request of Kurt Masur will be composed for his final farewell concert with the New York Philharmonic. This work will be Masurs last and most important commission for this orchestra.