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From the Height of a Sequoia

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I

CAN you imagine 63 percussion instruments being used in one orchestral performance! Include piano, xylophone, marimba, harp, gong, and a great host of drums. Combine these with bold headlines from the brass and string section, and you will find that an orchestra has created an astonishing balancing act.

That was very much the case with the Toronto Symphony the other night when for the first time I heard a performance of Joan Tower's "Sequoia." This is an original work for full orchestra. It is a kind of musical analogue to the giant Californian redwood tree.

Music as metaphor?

Tower's art brings out the equation nature makes of altitude and balance - to take the urban ear by surprise. Her message comes across in great alternating sweeps of sound - upward, outward, downward, and upward again. The musical analogue is shaped through three movements. It is sound that soars, fans out, plummets, and soars again - to go on growing with intricate percussive punctuations - all conveying the perfect symmetry and majesty of the great sequoia.

II

Tree

is an up

thrust

heavenward:

sky

is no roof

to earth's joy

to thought's reach.

Now height becomes

orchestral sound.

Brass and strings cry

equipoise

keep threading between

percussion's crash and sunder.

A long held

pedal-note on G

shafts through balancing

registers into

slow-fast-slow

branches that grow

out and up into

heart's summer.

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