by John Frayne The News-Gazette, Champaign, IL
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Read notes for About Leaves (1997) for chamber orchestra
Kevin Kelly and the Prairie Ensemble offered an original and challenging program of orchestral music at McKinley Presbyterian Church on Saturday night. It was challenging in that only one of the four composers heard, Aaron Copland, is well-known, and even he was represented by a rarely performed work. The music styles were not, in the main, strange or difficult, but Kelly was definitely leading the audience down untrodden paths through the musical forest.Now that we have a forest metaphor, it is opportune to say that the concert opened with Gwyneth Walker's About Leaves: Three Portraits for Chamber Orchestra. This work was an evocation of the autumnal atmosphere of three Robert Frost poems: "Treading on Leaves," "Light as Balloons" and "The Last Color." The composer was present and read the texts of the poems before the sections of the work. Indeed, I entered the hall during a lively discussion in which Walker discussed with Kevin Kelly her very busy life as a composer.
About Leaves showed that the strings and woodwinds of the Prairie Ensemble were in fine fettle Saturday evening. Walker writes very sympathetically for the orchestra, and some woodwind passages were especially beautiful. Her readings of Frost were clear and idiomatic. We are told she lives on a dairy farm in Vermont. This work was written in 1997, commissioned by the Vermont Symphony Orchestra. The music evoked for me the words "nature" and "rhapsody." It reminded me of Delius and the school that flourished in England around World War I. But About Leaves had a brightness and clarity that was all Walker's own. I am happy that such beautiful music is still being written.
October 9, 2003