New Horizons was commissioned by the Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival for their 30th season and premiered on June 19, 2015 by Diane Walsh, Peggy Pearson, J. Lawrie Bloom, and Marcy Rosen.
I have always been inspired by science and astronomy, and have vivid memories of seeing the space shuttle launch from my home in Florida despite being over 150 miles away from Cape Canaveral. The title of this work, New Horizons, refers to the NASA space probe that will reach the dwarf planet Pluto on July 14, 2015, and each of the three movements is about a key event in the probe's journey.
The first movement, January 19, 2006, represents the launch from Cape Canaveral. The introduction features an unwavering repeated note in the piano that represents the pulses of data that the probe sends back to Earth. Presented along with this ostinato is a fragmented chorale and cello melody, previewing the main musical ideas that permeate all three movements. Full of hope and excitement, the music explodes with fiery rising gestures after this introduction, ascending into the stratosphere. Once in the air, the three main musical ideas are developed in turn, continually building in energy.
The second movement, February 28, 2007, describes the probe's encounter with Jupiter. Flying by the largest and by far the most massive planet, New Horizons gained an incredible burst of speed. To represent Jupiter's immense gravity, this movement is framed as a passacaglia, with a repeating harmonic progression over which a series of variations proceed and grow. Starting with a mysterious cello solo, I envisioned seeing Jupiter approaching from the distance, beginning as a bright speck of light. As we approach closer, the music gets heavier and heavier, until it is overwhelmed with Jupiter's majesty and luminosity. Finally, Jupiter fades away in the distance and the cello solo returns.
This cello solo leads straight into the final movement without a pause. Reminiscent of the first movement, rising gestures return, as well as the chorale. This movement, July 14, 2015, represents the flyby of Pluto, the mission's primary goal. I wanted to capture the energy and excitement of discovery, as well as the probe's incredible speed at 32,600 mph. A rush of unrelenting fast notes pours out of the ensemble as the music builds. The data pulses return as the movement reaches its climax, before finally fading away into the distance.
Instrumentation: Oboe, Clarinet, Cello, Piano