Jack Van Zandt: "Sí An Bhrú" for piano and fixed electronics (2016)
Time and the River • Stonecutting • Spirals and Zigzags (Homage à Boulez)
Dance of Renewal • Eternal River • Starlit Night
Located along Ireland’s Boyne Valley, Sí an Bhrú, or Newgrange as it is known in English, built around 3200 BCE, is one of the oldest extant buildings in the world. The astronomically aligned Neolithic construction consists of a large earthen mound encircled by a stone wall lined with large, elaborately decorated stones. There is a stone-lined passageway that leads from the outside into a central stone-enclosed chamber with alcoves. Each year on the winter solstice, the rising sun shines through a small slit above the entry and light travels directly down the passageway, illuminating the interior chamber for 17 minutes. Commonly known as a “passage grave,” Sí an Bhrú is much more than a burial site—it is an encyclopedia of Late Stone Age artistic practices, and engineering, scientific and agricultural knowledge.
The musical structure of "Sí an Bhrú" takes the form of continuous variations on cyclic thematic materials that fall into several titled sections based on architectural, environmental, scientific and geometrical aspects of the building that suggested musical expression. "Time and the River" portrays the infinite, slow-motion flow of time in the progression of celestial objects, nature, the seasons and the nearby River Boyne. "Stonecutting" represents technologies that enabled the builders the ability to move and shape the giant heavy stones. "Spirals and Zigzags" (Homage à Boulez) is based on the shapes that decorate the stones, evidence of sophisticated abstract thinking, as well as an acute awareness of nature. "Dance of Renewal" is an imaginary ritual dance for the winter solstice, propelled by a gradually emerging ostinato. A brief return to the piece’s beginning, "Eternal River", leads back to the outside world and the timeless wonder of a moonless, crystal-clear "Starlit Night".
"Sí an Bhrú" was commissioned by and is dedicated to Nadia Shpachenko.
Jack Van Zandt is a Los Angeles composer of music for concerts, public spaces, gallery installations, television, film and advertising. He studied composition with Alexander Goehr, Peter Maxwell Davies, Thea Musgrave, Peter Racine Fricker and Emma Lou Diemer. His concert music has been performed in the USA, Canada and Europe, and his commercial music, composed in partnership with Joel Wachbrit, is regularly heard on broadcast and cable TV. He has scored documentary and silent films, and his electronic music has been used for installations, multimedia presentations, and meditation videos and workshops. He is also a writer, teacher, music education program designer, concert producer, and frequent university guest lecturer on various musical subjects. He was Visiting Artist at Cal Arts in 2017. He has recently received commissions from the Copland House Foundation, the Cal Poly Pomona Piano Ensemble, Celliola, LA Harptette, bass-baritone Nicholas Isherwood, and soprano Stacey Fraser, who will premiere his new music theater work with a libretto by Jill Freeman, “The New Frontier,” in 2020. Jack is a member of the board of directors of the Los Angeles chapter of the American Composers Forum, of which he was president 2014-17.
“Architects and composers have been influencing and inspiring each other for centuries: a work of music in its metaphysical environment and a building in its earthly environment are closely related and deeply felt artistic expressions created by utilizing space in the context of time through direct application of the physical sciences and mathematics. The Neolithic building Sí an Bhrú inspired me by its 5,500 years of existence in the Irish landscape, the method and process of its construction, and its encyclopedic representation of Stone Age knowledge and experience.”