Symphony No. 6 ... The Penobscot River (2004) for SATB chorus and orchestra.

Thomas Oboe Lee

About this work:

Commissioned by the Bangor Symphony Orchestra and American Composers Forum. Published by Theodore Presser Company/Merion Music, Inc.

Program note: It has been a wonderful two years of thinking, learning and working on my Continental Harmony Project with the Bangor Symphony Orchestra. It is a rare occasion that a composer in the 21st century would receive a commission to write a musical work of such scale: a 40-minute piece for symphony orchestra, 200-plus chorus and a ballet company.

At the Bangor Public Library I found some wonderful evocative 19th century texts for the chorus about the city of Bangor and its environs: the Penobscot River, Mt. Ktaadn, the logging industry, the native American culture, etc. At times I felt overwhelmed, but most of the times I was exuberant and quite inspired by the music that came forth in the process. The premiere is less than a month away, and I am looking forward to it.

Susan Jonason, Executive Director of the Bangor Symphony, has made the occasion a very public one: a free concert on a Saturday evening! I hope the audience will go home humming the tunes from the work as they walk into the crisp, cool Bangor night.

Formally the work is in five movements. The first, third and fifth movements are choral, and the two in between are orchestral. In the premiere, the Robinson Ballet will dance in the orchestral movements.

The first movement is about the Penobscot River from winter to spring. The melting of the ice is a harbinger of things to come: warmer weather, for instance; but it has also contributed to a lot of flooding in the city of Bangor and its surroundings.

The second movement is a waltz, a grand 19th century ballroom waltz for the ladies of the rich lumber barons. They come to the ball showing off their latest hats and gowns from London, Paris and Milan.

The third movement is about the woods and the people who work in them. Thoreau’s text about Mt. Ktaadn is full of awesome thoughts about how nature is beautiful, yet unkind to man. It is followed by a J.G. Whittier lyric entitled “The Logger’s Boast.” The original song had twenty stanzas to it. I whittled it down to five. I don’t know what the original song sounded like, so I made up my own version of a lumberjack’s “drinking song.”

The fourth movement is a wild, “drunken” polka. After a long week of working in the woods the lumbermen come back to the city and spend all their earnings on booze, women and gambling. And they dance the night away …

The last movement begins with a funeral march for Joe Attien, a native American who was Thoreau’s guide when he came up here in the 1900’s. The work ends with a rousing march, a “centennial” hymn to the city of Bangor. “God bless our city Bangor, now! On this its birthday morn …”

Year composed: 2004
Duration: 00:38:00
Ensemble type: Orchestra
Instrumentation notes: Five-movement work for chorus and orchestra.

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