Stella Maris

fl, cl, pf, vn, va, vc, gtr

Performed by the Playground Ensemble

This recording has many subtle moments that are difficult to hear on laptop speakers; please consider using headphones or quality speakers.

The initial inspiration for Stella Maris came from the peculiar properties of my 1908 upright piano; even when the damper pedal isn’t depressed, playing octave D’s in the lowest register of the instrument results in a rich array of sympathetic resonances. As I worked to orchestrate these sounds, melodic contours emerged that reminded me of the plainchant Ave Maris Stella (“Hail Star of the Sea,” an ancient hymn to the Blessed Virgin Mary), and I began to notice symbolic connections between the hymn’s Latin text and the sound world of my sketches. For instance, I associate the pitch letter name D with a deep, warm shade of light blue, a color that the Blessed Virgin Mary is often depicted wearing. Also, many of the extended techniques in my piece (breath sounds in the winds, scraping noises on guitar and piano strings) are suggestive of noises that might be produced by the wind in the rigging of a ship. After deciding to make the hymn the backbone and dramatic goal of my piece, I looked for other ways to pay tribute to the Latin text. One of these comes in the form of the “Whispered Ahs” (a procedure borrowed from the Alexander Technique) that all seven players are instructed to perform. The virtually inaudible “Ah” sound pays tribute to the hymn’s assertion that the angel’s greeting to Mary (“Ave”) symbolically heralds the redemption of the world by reversing the name of Eve (Evæ).
– Sarah Perske

Sonya Yeager-Meeks, flute
Brian Ebert, clarinet
Autumn Pepper, violin
Donald Schumacher, viola
Richard von Foerster, cello
Patrick Sutton, guitar
Arijit Chakraborty, piano
Jonathan Leathwood, conductor