The first time I heard Samuel Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915, it changed my life. I was fourteen years old, and as I sat under the stars at the beautiful Ford Theater on a summer night in in Los Angeles with my parents, I completely identified with the voice of the child who narrates the text of the piece – so aware of the huge, complex world that I was seeing, even through young eyes. Just trying to parse it all. I can pinpoint that one performance as a pivotal moment in my decision to be a musician. I just wanted be someone who could create that kind of beauty.
The History of Red is borne from the same bones as Knoxville: it is also a large-scale work for soprano and chamber orchestra (intentionally written for the same instrumentation), where the singer grapples with the world around her. And yet it is different — Linda Hogan’s beautiful text is clearly the voice of an adult woman, aware not only of her own current world, but of the entire, complex history of her ancestors. Perhaps that is why her words instantly grabbed me — at this time in the world, when we are each grappling with our own complicated, intertwined histories, her journey felt so resonant to me.
I wrote this piece as the pandemic was raging around the world, as the effects of decades of racism hit a new fever pitch in the US, and as we headed into the 2020 presidential election with so much trepidation. My own complicated history, and the history of this time, is also embedded in every note of this piece.
I love the last lines of Hogan’s poem: “This life in the fire, I love it / I want it, / this life.” What an incredible aspiration: more than simply agreeing to confront her own history, she beckons it. She craves a life of the deepest engagement with it. It feels to me like the most beautiful way to build the world we want to see from the ashes of the world that has fallen apart.
1Fl (+picc), 1Ob (+EH), 1Cl in Bb, 1 Bsn
1Tpt, 2Hn in F
see video above
The text of The History of Red by Linda Hogan is available here.
This piece was commissioned by soprano Kathryn Mueller and a consortium of orchestras including Santa Fe Pro Musica, The Knights, River Oaks Chamber Orchestra and the Orlando Philharmonic. The piece was premiered on April 24, 2021 by River Oaks Chamber Orchestra, with subsequent premieres by the other ensembles.