Music News & Reviews

Rich Copley: Composer reimagines piece for its second premiere in the same place

Composer Daniel Thomas Davis has reworked Book of Songs and Visions, written for a quintet, for an orchestra.
Composer Daniel Thomas Davis has reworked Book of Songs and Visions, written for a quintet, for an orchestra. Lexington Herald-Leader

Daniel Thomas Davis thought this was going to happen in Charleston, S.C.

The premiere of his award-winning piano quintet, Book of Songs and Visions, had been at the Chamber Music Festival of Lexington, here in the Bluegrass, the land that inspired the sounds and textures of the work. But the conductor who took an interest in bringing the debut of the orchestral version of the piece to the stage was with the Charleston Symphony Orchestra: Scott Terrell.

Call it fate, but when Terrell was hired as the music director of the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra in 2009, that world premiere came back to Lexington with him.

"That is absolutely and utterly appropriate," Davis says, sitting in the home of Charlie Stone, the chamber festival founder and Philharmonic supporter who first brought Davis to Lexington after they met while headed to Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

As it turns out, what Terrell really liked in the piece were things that emerged from Davis' winter 2008 trip to the Bluegrass.

Davis "said he walked into a barn in Shakertown and made a sound and it did that," Terrell says, his hands flashing open and then his fingertips floating down like snowflakes. "And when you look at the score, that's exactly what he does. He gets that ripple-effect sound, that sort of evolving sound."

Davis says he didn't write the piano quintet as any sort of outline for a larger, orchestral piece. But he has enjoyed the challenge of the "massive edit" required to reimagine the five-musician piece for 70 players.

"It's the same piece, the same music, some of the same tunes, some of the same melodies, certainly the same ideas, but reimagined for a much larger canvas," Davis says. Looking at a painting on Stone's wall, he says, "It is much like moving from watercolor to an oil painting. The brush strokes are different, the paint is different, the canvas size is different, but the images are more or less the same."

Resetting Songs and Visions gives Davis a rare opportunity to revisit a work after its premiere.

"As a composer, so often we make something and it's just gone," Davis says. "With this piece, I have felt more like a performer, and like I am performing the piece differently from one night to the next. It's like a jazzer — one night I'm playing with a trio and the next night with a big band."

For Terrell, bringing in Davis' piece is a first step toward establishing the Philharmonic as an orchestra that commissions and premieres works. Rehearsals with the orchestra don't start until Monday, but Terrell said he thinks the audience will like what it hears.

"Dan's very gifted, very thorough," Terrell says. "It's not simply an orchestration. He's taken great attention to the way it's going to sound."

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