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Bell Illuminations

Augusta Read Thomas
8 min

In this ballade, Bells are heard in the distance as if through mist. When “rainbows” appear (featuring the sostenuto pedal) additional layers of bells swirl and dance as technical demands on the pianist’s virtuosity grow ever more and more intense, leading to radiant and bright illuminations that flare in all directions, as if five bell-tower carillons were optimistically ringing at the same time.

The sonic predecessors of BELL ILLUMINATIONS include Ravel, Debussy, Scriabin, Herbie Hancock, Art Tatum, and Bill Evans, whose musical perfumes Thomas has reveled in for decades.

It is clear, in all Thomas’ works, that she has been listening to jazz for over 40 years. She is not a composer of what is sometimes referred to as "crossover" jazz/classical pieces; rather, there is a deeply integrated, digested, and well-heard sensibility related to jazz harmonies, flexibility, spontaneity, rhythm, and flow in her music of the past 30 years.

Thomas said of the work: "Although highly notated, precise, carefully structured, soundly proportioned, and while the pianist is elegantly working from a nuanced, very specific text, I like my music to have the feeling that it is organically being self-propelled - on the spot. As if we listeners are overhearing a spontaneous captured improvisation."

The title’s word, illumination, has many meanings related to this music including: radiance, lighting hues, decoration, ornament, embellishment and elucidation.

Throughout the dramatic crescendo of increasing virtuosity, speed, and volume, musical connections are orbital. Layers of bells are added and a chain-link of transformations, variations and outgrowths unfolds. Sounds cross-fertilize and establish organic relationships which, in turn, create new intersections and fulcrum points. The music starts very modestly and, as the inner-life of the sounds percolate and bloom, BELL ILLUMINATIONS develops into a vivid, plentiful adventure.

Commissioned by and dedicated with admiration and gratitude to Daniel Pesca

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