Hovhaness’ “Fra Angelico,” Fantasy for Orchestra: Angelic Intelligences

The American composer Alan Hovhaness (1911-2000) was one of the twentieth century’s greatest musical mavericks. As a student at Tanglewood in the 1940s, Hovhaness’ music was ridiculed by the establishment so severely that he withdrew from the school and abandoning his scholarship. Famously, over the course of two weeks in the 1930s, he burned some 1,000 scores that he considered to be mediocre. Following this purge, an authentic new voice emerged. A …

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Hovhaness’ Symphony No. 6, “Celestial Gate”: Entering a New Dimension

Alan Hovhaness’ Symphony No. 6, “Celestial Gate” is modest by some measures. The work, composed in 1959, is scored for a chamber orchestra. It unfolds in a single movement which lasts just over twenty minutes. Yet once we move beyond this finite formal “container,” we enter a musical space which feels infinitely vast and timeless. Perhaps this is the serene, mystical, and ambient world on the other side of the “Celestial Gate” of …

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Remembering Sam Pilafian

Tuba virtuoso Sam Pilafian passed away last week following a battle with cancer. He was 69. Pilafian was a founding member of the Empire Brass Quintet. He appeared on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, with a host of major orchestras, with Summit Brass, and with such diverse performers as the Duke Ellington Orchestra, Lionel Hampton, and Pink Floyd. (That is Pilafian on The Trial track from the rock band’s 1979 album, The Wall). As a teacher, Pilafian held positions …

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Alan Hovhaness’ Mystical Tone Poem, “Meditation on Orpheus”

East meets west in the music of the Armenian-American twentieth century maverick composer, Alan Hovhaness (1911-2000). Infused with a quiet mysticism and contemplative reverence, Hovhaness’ music is a melting pot in which “exotic” Middle Eastern and Asian scales, modes, and western counterpoint all bubble to the surface. Amid the mechanized turmoil of the modern world, Hovhaness found spiritual inspiration in trees and mountains. There is an ancient, eternal, soulfulness in his music which evokes …

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