Saint Louis Symphony Premiers New Work By Aaron Jay Kernis
- Written by Gary Liam Scott
What creates a creator? Life experiences, world events, philosophy, training, and perhaps most of all, the influence of other creators and artists, all bring their forces to bear. Composer Aaron Jay Kernis, whose "Venit Illuminatio (Toward the Illumination of Colored Light)" will be given its world premiere by conductor Stéphane Denève and the Saint Louis Symphony on November 15-16, points out that the influences that shape our creative flow can change over time, and they evolve as surely as we do. Fluidity is a hallmark not just of art and music, but of life itself.
Since beginning his compositional career at the age of 12, accompanied by training as a violinist and singer, and up to the present day in which he teaches composition at Yale, Kernis has developed a keen sense of the importance of melody. Whether simple or complex, well-defined or like evanescent clouds, melody is central to all music. Such diverse figures as contemporary composer as John Adams, 20th century composer Olivier Messiaen, along with the historical legacy of the Jewish cantorial system have provided much input into Kernis' creative outpouring and its development. Interestingly, all the above named share an impetus in which melodies, once they are seeded, take root and spring forth on their own, without regard to following any particular structure. The melodies fly forth on their own wings. "Venit Illuminatio" is no exception, and the work opens with a melody that journeys through wide permutations that explore a panorama of various emotions and evolving sensitivities.
Another contributor to the musical thinking of Kernis is color. As a composer, he is deeply aware that the orchestra is made up of a full palette of colors emanating from each of the various instruments and sections. Although many listeners are able to sense color in music, it is probably too easily forgotten that music stimulates our vision as well as our hearing. Composers who are viscerally aware of the importance of color and images in sound and music tend to produce vibrant textures and musical landscapes. Kernis also draws upon the color and shadings produced by harmony and contour. His harmonic language includes traditional as well as contemporary chords and progressions, all contributing to the musical fabric of each composition.
Although visually oriented, Kernis is also keenly aware that music exists in time. He has often referred to musical thought as a journey. Accordingly, he sees "Venit Illuminatio" as a continuation of a journey of reflection that was begun in his Symphony No. 4. Each composer makes his or her own unique and personal journey. Through commissions and premieres, the Saint Louis Symphony gives us ongoing opportunities to experience firsthand the journeys of Aaron Jay Kernis and other contemporary composers.