I took the above picture last night at a rehearsal of my Variations on a Hymn Tune with the University of Pennsylvania Symphony Orchestra, Thomas Hong conducting. They will be performing the piece this coming Saturday night, 2/22, at 8 pm in Irvine Auditorium on the Penn campus. There have been a few performances of the piece, both in the Philadelphia area and in the Midwest, but this is the first time it will be heard at Penn. Here’s a program note on the piece:
Composed at the request of the Council Rock School District in Bucks County, PA, these variations are based on a 19th century hymn tune called “Ebenezer”, written by Welsh composer Thomas J. Williams. I came to know the tune with the text “Through the Night of Doubt and Sorrow”, but my music does not reflect that somewhat lugubrious title! I tried to write a piece that would include a variety of moods, and would give each orchestral section a chance to shine.
After a short introduction, the hymn is heard in the violins. Variations 1 and 3 treat the tune contrapuntally, with the tune sometimes played at different speeds simultaneously. Variations 2 and 4 change the rhythm of the hymn more dramatically. The extended ending of the 4th variation recalls some of the gestures of the introduction.
The piece is in the Theodore Presser rental catalog, and Presser has posted an online perusal score of the piece here. While the work was written for a high school ensemble, it is certainly appropriate for college or community orchestras. The Penn Orchestra is doing a great job, and I am grateful to the players and conductor Thomas Hong for their work on the piece.