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Below are excerpts from Jake Wallace’s official program notes for Aurora Awakes: Aurora now had left her saffron bed, And beams of early light the heav’ns o’erspread, When, from a tow’r, the queen, with wakeful eyes, Saw day point upward from the rosy skies. — Virgil, The Aeneid, Book IV, Lines 584-587 Aurora—the Roman goddess of the dawn—is a mythological figure frequently associated with beauty and light. Also known as Eos (her Greek analogue), Aurora would rise each morning and stream across the sky, heralding the coming of her brother Sol, the sun. Though she is herself among the lesser deities of Roman and Greek mythologies, her cultural influence has persevered, most notably in the naming of the vibrant flashes of light that occur in Arctic and Antarctic regions—the Aurora Borealis and Aurora Australis. John Mackey’s Aurora Awakes is, thus, a piece about the heralding of the coming of light. Built in two substantial sections, the piece moves over the course of eleven minutes from a place of remarkable stillness to an unbridled explosion of energy—from darkness to light, placid grey to startling rainbows of color. The presence of two more-or-less direct quotations of other musical compositions is particularly noteworthy in Aurora Awakes. The first, which appears at the beginning of the second section, is an ostinato based on the familiar guitar introduction to U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name.” Though the strains of The Edge’s guitar have been metamorphosed into the insistent repetitions of keyboard percussion, the aesthetic is similar—a distant proclamation that grows steadily in fervor. The difference between U2’s presentation and Mackey’s, however, is that the guitar riff disappears for the majority of the song, while in Aurora Awakes, the motive persists for nearly the entirety of the remainder of the piece. The other quotation is a sly reference to Gustav Holst’s First Suite in E-flat for Military Band. The brilliant E-flat chord that closes the Chaconne of that work is orchestrated (nearly) identically as the final sonority of Aurora Awakes—producing an unmistakably vibrant timbre that won’t be missed by aficionados of the repertoire. This same effect was, somewhat ironically,

“That has always been one of my favorite chords because it’s just so damn bright. In a piece that’s about the awaking of the goddess of dawn, you need a damn bright ending—and there was no topping Holst. Well… except to add crotales.” SERGEI RACHMANINOFF (1873-1943) Symphony No. 2 in E minor, Op. 27 Premiered on January 26, 1908, in Saint Petersburg under the direction of the composer. With the disastrous aftermath of his First Symphony in the rearview-mirror—thanks in large part to his highly acclaimed Second Piano Concerto—Rachmaninoff moved to Dresden in order to focus on composing. Compositionally and professionally at a crossroads, Rachmaninoff wrote in February 1907, “I have composed a symphony. It’s true! I finished it a month ago and immediately put it aside. It was a severe worry to me and I am not going to think about it any more.” Fortunately, the composer did think about it again the following summer, and the work was premiered with great success, winning the Glinka Prize. Rachmaninoff’s post-Romantic style becomes apparent right from the start with the introduction of an Urmotiv (primal motif) out of which the whole work evolves. In fact, the whole symphony unfolds in a rather predictable, almost 19th-century fashion—a reactionary style for which the composer would be criticized for the rest of his life. Rachmaninoff had made a deliberate choice to continue the legacy of Tchaikovsky, placing himself within the lineage of the great Russian, Romantic symphonists. This choice seemed to have sealed his fate as a composer, since the 1954 edition of the revered Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians predicted that, “the enormous popular success . . . is not likely to last.” Yet despite his many doubters, Rachmaninoff remains to this day, one of the most often performed composers. It seems that the composer’s difficult choice paid off, as he stayed true to his talents by writing “outdated” works full of beauty, intensity, and rich content. - Siegwart Reichwald

2019 Summer Institute & Festival



Premiered on May 8, 2009 at the J.E.B. Stuart High School in Falls Church, Virginia, under the direction of Doug Martin.

suggested by Mackey for the ending of composer Jonathan Newman’s My Hands Are a City. Mackey adds an even brighter element, however, by including instruments not in Holst’s original:


JOHN MACKEY (1973-) Aurora Awakes

Profile for Brevard Music Center

2019 BMC Overture Magazine  

The seasonal publication for the annual Brevard Music Center Summer Festival. Overture includes all festival programming and program notes,...

2019 BMC Overture Magazine  

The seasonal publication for the annual Brevard Music Center Summer Festival. Overture includes all festival programming and program notes,...