Dreamtime Ancestors

Printer Friendly VersionSend by email

           Theofanides is an award-winning young composer, whose compositions currently enjoy wide popularity with orchestras around the world, including the New York Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the London Symphony.  In addition, he has written extensive for both ballet and opera.  Born and educated in Texas, as well as at Yale University and the Eastman School of Music, he is currently on the faculty of the former school.  He has also taught at the Juilliard School and the Peabody Conservatory.

            His musical style can aptly be deemed “euphonious,” that is, well sounding.  It exemplifies a rich imagination, a complete mastery of orchestration, and an innate sensitivity to musical composition as a partner to the human affective mind.   Only a cursory look at some of the titles of his works reveals his informing interest in evoking memories, feelings, moods, and literature:  Peace, Love, Light YOUMEONE; Rainbow Body; Vision and Miracles; This dream strange and moving; Siddhartha; I wander the world in a dream of my own making; and others.  Theofanides speaks directly to this aspect of his work:  “Writing a piece of music is like creating a dream that you want to have.  The feeling that pervades the work is one of a sense of mystery, and this sentiment is primarily conveyed through the harmonies and orchestration.”   And those harmonies –as well as his rhythms, scales and the melodies they yield—are firmly grounded in certain familiar musical styles of successful composers of the last century.  Not for him the detached, mathematical abstractions so prevalent in much of the approaches to musical composition during the twentieth century—especially during the period right after World War II.  Rather, Theofanides is concerned with evocative and amenable musical textures, accessible melodies, and harmonies that range from smoothly consonant to pungently dissonant, yet used calculatedly.   It may be useful to think of aspects of the musical styles of such disparate composers as Hovhaness, Walton, Holst, or even Mahler.  All of whom were masters of using every musical resource in the service of extra-musical thoughts in attractive and stimulating ways.  Which brings us to Dreamtime Ancestors.

            It is a recent composition, commissioned by a consortium of over fifty orchestras, and given its various regional premières during 2016.  Inspired by the creation myths of Australian aborigines that stem from so-called “dreamtimes,” it is a musical response to the notion that during these dreamtimes, we are bound to all of our “dreamtime ancestors,”---past, present, and future.   Cast in three relatively short movements, this evocative composition prefaces each movement with an aboriginal poem that informs the mood of the music.  Throughout the work there is generally a sense of constant, mysterious motion, as sensuous lines constantly wind in and around each other in a kind of polyphonic weft.   Interest is generated by a parade of seemingly new motives, but often related or derived from each other.  Even though there often seems to be a repetitiveness to the rhythms and ideas, they nevertheless build and grow in a nuanced constant variation.  Layers of colors, rhythms, and sonorities are literally “stacked” on upon the other.   From time to time interjections of points of sound jump in, as the kaleidoscope of events surges ahead.  All in all, it seems as if a parade of compositional techniques from all ages of musical history has been mustered to create a floating evocation of the dreams of the ambiguous past.   From the past the new is thus created.

--Wm. E. Runyan

© 2016 William E. Runyan