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Absolute Ocean (2008)

for solo soprano, harp obbligato, and orchestra
Texts by E. E. Cummings

solo soprano, solo harp, pic., fl., alto fl.1+EH.1+bcl.1/2.2.1.0/[4perc]/pno./cel/str
[An alternate version exists for solo mezzo-soprano, harp obbligato, and orchestra. It is identical the original, merely transposed down a minor third. Slight re-orchestrations were made by the composer to accommodate the downward transposition.]
First performance by Twyla Robinson (solo soprano) and Paula Page (solo harp), Hans Graf, conductor, the Houston Symphony, in Houston, Texas, on 22 January 2009
Duration: 18 minutes

CD Available
Portrait of Augusta Read Thomas

This work is available on
A PORTRAIT OF AUGUSTA READ THOMAS.

  
 

Absolute Ocean runs from 3:24-4:28

Text

Three poems by E. E. Cummings
Used with permission of the Liveright Publishing Corporation
Copyright 1923, 1925, 1944, 1951, 1953, 1963, 1972, 1991
by the Trustees for the E. E. Cummings Trust
Copyright 1976 by George James Firmage.

 

#1:
the moon is hiding in
her hair.
The
lily
of heaven
full of all dreams,
draws down.

cover her briefness in singing
close her with the intricate faint birds
by daisies and twilights
Deepen her,

Recite
upon her
flesh
the rain's

pearls singly-whispering.


#2:
     who knows if the moon's
a balloon, coming out of a keen city
in the sky--filled with pretty people?
(and if you and i should

get into it, if they
should take me and take you into their balloon,
why then
we'd go up higher with all the pretty people

than houses and steeples and clouds:
go sailing
away and away sailing into a keen
city which nobody's ever visited, where

always
it's
Spring)and everyone's
in love and flowers pick themselves

(Harp solo interlude)


#3:
open your heart:
i'll give you a treasure
of tiniest world
a piece of forever with

summitless younger than
angels are mountains
rivery forests
towerful towns (queen

sprout heroes of moonstar
flutter to and
swim blossoms of person) through

musical shadows while hunted
by daemons
see the luminous
leopards (on wingfeet of thingfear)

come ships go
snowily sailing
perfect silence.
Absolute ocean

Selected Reviews

Everett Evans, Houston Chronicle Houston Symphony at Jones Hall

"Witty and original..."

"In setting three Cummings poems as Absolute Ocean for Soprano, Harp and Orchestra, composer Augusta Read Thomas has created a contemporary classical work with its share of piquant charm, engaging aural effects and. . . The new concerto was given its world premiere Thursday night by the Houston Symphony, led by music director Hans Graf. Its successful launch showcased the exacting musicianship of Paula Page, the orchestra's principal harpist, and guest artist Twyla Robinson, who brought her creamy soprano to Thomas's settings of Cummings."

"A particularly effective aspect of the work was Thomas' arrangement of orchestral forces: streamlined string and brass sections; a percussion section stressing tinkling and chiming instruments (no drums); and eight different woodwinds, including a few less standard ones (bass clarinet) with no doubling of the usual suspects."

"The result was an interesting blend of orchestral colors that enhanced and supported the solo roles and never overwhelmed the poems."

"the moon is hiding in her hair carried an air of gentle mystery. who knows if the moon's a balloon was the liveliest of the trio, characterized by an emphatic staccato attack in vocal and instrumental lines. The closing piece, open your heart, registered as the most expressive of the three, culminating in the titular phrase: "come ships go/snowily sailing/perfect silent/Absolute ocean."

 

Olin Chism, PBS affiliate KERA Public Television and Radio Houston Symphony Spotlights Harp

"In Houston, the HSO presented the premiere of Augusta Read Thomas' Absolute Ocean for soprano, harp and orchestra. HSO principal Paula Page was the harpist."

"Based on poetry by E.E. Cummings, Absolute Ocean is an appealing work in which two lyrical and atmospheric outer movements enclose a lively, rhythmically jerky section that forms a playful center. Soprano Twyla Robinson sang the poetry with a pleasing tone and clear enunciation. Page had a lovely turn in an interlude for harp and orchestra connecting the second and third movements. This work would be worth repeated hearings."

 

David J. Baker, New Haven Register "A harp, at center stage for once, asserted itself almost without interruption, no longer the back-up strummer. There was a singer, soprano Tony Arnold, while some usual supporting players — the percussionists plus piano and celesta — became frontliners...performing a 21st-century work, called Absolute Ocean, by the orchestra's composer in residence, Augusta Read Thomas."

"Thomas' music works at spinning atmosphere — two exercises in smooth, floating vocal lines with liquid instrumental effects, contrasting with two sections hammered with restless staccato figures."

"The beauty of soprano Arnold's singing, and the energetic work of harpist Jennifer Hoult, gave focus and charm to the playful work."

 

Houston Symphony

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