Two Columns at Sea (2015)

Kinetic: The Conductorless Ensemble
Kinetic: The Conductorless Ensemble

For string orchestra

Premiere: October 18, 2015, First Evangelical Lutheran Church, Houston, TX  by: Kinetic: The Conductorless Ensemble (Natalie Lin, leader)

Commissioned by: Kinetic: The Conductorless Ensemble

Duration:  ca. 20 min

Hear an excerpt from the premiere of Two Columns at Sea below:



Watch the premiere of Two Columns at Sea below:


Program Notes: Two Columns at Sea is inspired by a vivid dream of Don Bosco (1815-88). An Italian priest, Bosco dedicated his life to educating poor neglected children who were forced into the streets and factories of Turin.

In addition to his life’s work, Bosco is renowned for his dreams, many of which came to pass in accurate detail during his lifetime. The dream that inspired this composition is often referred to as Bosco’s Dream of the Two Columns, (from May 1862). The following is a summary:

Bosco sees an immense stretch of sea covered with countless ships in battle formation. All are heavily armed, heading toward one mighty flagship. In the middle of the sea he sees two columns near one another—one bearing a statue of the Immaculate Virgin reading Help of Christians and a taller one bearing a Sacred Host with the inscription Salvation of believers.

The flagship’s commander summons his captains to a conference but a furious storm breaks out, forcing them back to their ships. The commander strains every muscle trying to steer his ship between the two columns but the enemy fleet closes in, bombarding the flagship with everything it can: bombs, canons, books, pamphlets… But a breeze from the two columns continues to seal up the flagship’s gashes.

The battle rages more furiously and the enemy takes to hand-to-hand combat, cursing and blaspheming. The commander falls suddenly, and after another blow dies. Wild rejoicing from the enemy wanes as a new commander is immediately elected. The new commander steers the ship safely between the two columns and anchors to them, causing the enemy ships to panic and disperse. Then a great calm covers the sea.

This composition seeks to capture the vibrant imagery of Bosco’s dream. Throughout, one can hear foreboding and “belligerent” gestures cast forth in succession, mostly appearing as variations on the same musical threads and often in the form of older (perhaps “outdated”) musical idioms. But there are also musical glimpses of the “two columns” which serve to contrast the systematic bombardment of these belligerent moments. Toward the end of the composition, a musical quotation from my Ave Maria No. 10 – Virgo Serena (“Serene Virgin”, to be premiered in December 2015) appears—one that is very similar to the melodic figures in this piece’s “two columns” sections.