Symphony No. 2 ... A Phantasmagorey Ballet (1998)

Thomas Oboe Lee

About this work:

Program note.

Nineteen ninety-eight marks the tenth anniversary of my plunge into the world of ballet. I continue to take classes three or four times a week. It's fun, athletic, and challenging. And I'm still working on the basic notion of "spotting" in my pirouettes ... So when Max Hobart of the Civic Symphony Orchestra of Boston agreed to premiere a new work of mine I knew it had to be a symphonic ballet.

Coincidentally, I discovered that my favorite cartoonist, Edward Gorey, is also a balletomane. He lived in New York City between 1953 and 1986 and never missed a single performance of the New York City Ballet. Apparently his leaving New York to live permanently on Cape Cod was prompted by the death of George Balanchine in 1983.

Among Edward Gorey's many books there is one, "The Gilded Bat," about a young woman, Maud Splaytoe, and her adventures in the ballet world. She dies in the end when the plane she is in flies into a "great, dark bird." Hmmm, I thought, "The Gilded Bat" would make a nice "adagio" movement.

To complete the work, I found four other Gorey books that attracted me in mood and texture: "The Nursery Frieze" - dogs running across the edge of a nursery ceiling, barking out words whose sequence provides no sense or meaning, e.g., "Archipelago, cardamon, obloquy, ignavia, samisen, bandages, wax, Gavelkind, ... " ; "The Raging Tide" - a fantastical story about four creatures, Figbash, Hooglyboo, Naeelah and Skrump, who would not stop abusing each other; "The Utter Zoo" - an alphabet book of zoo animals of Edward Gorey's concoction, e.g., "Ampoo, Boggerslosh, Crunk, Dawbis, Epitwee, ... "; and "The Blue Aspic" - a macabre story of a mad fan, Jasper Ankle, who stalks an opera diva, Ortenzia Caviglia. When he finally meets her at the stage-door after a performance, he stabs her in the throat and cries, "J'ai trouvé Hortense!"

Symphony No. 2 ... "A Phantasmagorey Ballet" is in five movements:

I. "The Nursery Frieze" - Con moto

II. "The Gilded Bat" - Adagio - Pas seul for Mirella Splatova, aka Maud Splaytoe

III. "The Raging Tide" - Presto - Pas de Quatre for Figbash, Hooglyboo, Naeelah and Skrump

IV. "The Blue Aspic" - Allegro, Valzer alla Prokofiev - Pas de deux for Jasper Ankle and Ortenzia Caviglia

V. "The Utter Zoo" - Largo, Grand Funk Finale

This work is dedicated to my wife, Kristin Beckwith, whom I met ten years ago at the Boston Ballet, and who continues to be my one and only ballet teacher.

Year composed: 1998
Duration: 00:26:00
Ensemble type: Orchestra

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