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19 April 2018

Unfinished Earth

Douglas Knehans Image: Douglas Knehans  

Cincinnati-based Douglas Knehans writes about two major works of his, both just released on an album to positive reviews, with Fanfare Magazine describing the music 'hugely exciting', and Pizzicato magazine stating, 'Australian-American composer Douglas Knehans has an exuberant imagination, and in this program he succeeds again with surprising and unexpected ideas...' Album details on AMC Online - see also Ablaze Records website, iTunes, Amazon and Spotify.

Between June 2015 and November 2017 I recorded and produced a disc of two major works of mine: Tempest - concerto for flute and orchestra - and Unfinished Earth for orchestra. I was lucky to have by my side in this the tremendous artistry of British conductor Mikel Toms, British flute soloist Gareth Davies (principal flute of the London Symphony Orchestra) and the amazing and virtuosic musicians of the Brno Philharmonic in the Czech Republic.

I have been recording in the Czech Republic every summer for the last six years in my capacity as a composer, with recordings of my own works, but, more usually, as a producer in the recordings of works of other composers. I know the conductor and orchestra extremely well and, when asked to write these two works, I always had, in the back of my mind, a plan to record them in Brno and issue them on my own ABLAZE Records label.

We recorded Tempest in the summer of 2015 and Unfinished Earth, the large orchestral work in three movements, in the summer of 2016. We usually record and edit in Brno and then send multi-tracks back to our New York-based multi-Grammy-Award-winning mixing/mastering engineer, and I sit in on the mix sessions. The masters were delivered in early 2017 and then art and design work followed with a long lead-up to the launch of the disc in April 2018.

These two works represent different views of how the external metaphors of wind and earth may be shaped to reflect the more intimate internal worlds of the human heart and mind.

Tempest, my flute concerto, was shaped by the thought of wind - such an essential element to the flute and flute playing - and how, in the natural world, this courses across the planet in different ways from benign to hostile. The movements reflect different wind patterns found around the globe - these served as a departure point for a three-movement work cast in a quasi-classical frame of fast-slow-fast structure. Each movement engages a message, I hope, beyond mere tone painting, to reflect deeper aspects of the human condition, the human experience, thought, reflection, psychology and emotion.

Unfinished Earth is a longer and deeper work, again cast in three movements, and delving into the constant degradation and reformation of earth and sea. Just as the earth slowly changes and evolves, we ourselves are constantly evolving through the deepening of our life experience, the processing of life's joys and tragedies, and the inner passage of our turmoils and triumphs.

'Tempering', the first movement, is about the formation of earth and the molten rock that rises from the subterranean earthen smelter to become land. For me, this is a movement about becoming, and, through such becoming, firming our sense of self, just as earth does as it becomes land. 'Eternal Ocean', the second movement, evokes the shifting currents of deep ocean, again as a metaphor for the unfocussed and at times even conflicting currents of the inner emotional worlds of the human experience. The final movement, 'Tearing Drift', is again a work with multivalent meanings: referring to the ripping apart of, or fractures in, the earth's surface, as might happen in an earthquake, perhaps, and also referring to the alternative meaning of the first word of the title not as being torn but as crying. This notion of an earth cry or deep subterranean swell of grief was a central image and intent of this movement. The strident wind and brass microtonal peals and screams against the strong percussive thrust of this movement were intended to reflect such an earth cry - or even the Munchian silent scream of isolated man.

Since its release, the disc has won five international awards, including three silver medals from the Global Music Awards, Best Classical Album from the Clouzine International Music Awards and Best Contemporary Classical Album from the Independent Music Awards, presented at the Lincoln Center in New York in April 2018. Critics also like the disc, with the BBC Music Magazine awarding it four stars, and claiming it '…wonderfully orchestrated… dynamic and endlessly evolving…'.

Unfinished Earth is available via Ablaze Records, Amazon, Spotify and iTunes.

Further links

Douglas Knehans - AMC profile

Douglas Knehans - homepage (www.douglasknehans.com)

Ablaze Records: Unfinished Earth (www.ablazerecords.net)

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