Composed in 2001/2002, Symphony No. 1 — Night Visions concerns my fascination with African music and its confluence with the European classical tradition. The Prelude (Invocation) and Movement I investigate a sacred timeline rhythm of the Yoruba people of present day Nigeria, which was carried to Cuba during the slave trade and became one of the bases of the music of Santeria (a Caribbean religion). My goal was to weave this rhythm deeply into the fabric of the composition, treating it with the motivic tools associated with the European classical tradition, and thus achieve a unity and synthesis of these great traditions.

Movement II is based on rhythmic mechanisms endemic to contemporary Cuban jazz, which evolved from the Yoruban rhythm discussed above. As in the previous sections, my goal was to achieve a deep integration of the elements of both cultures. This is not Salsa for orchestra, but something subtler, with echoes of the original context. The tempo is greatly slowed, and montunos and tumbaos are stretched across continuously changing meters, hidden within the texture.


Central to the Santeria ceremony is the concept of spirit possession, wherein one of the Orishas (Santerian deities) is invoked and takes possession of the practitioner. In my symphony the Orisha is at first embodied in the electronics during the Prelude and Movement I. In Movement II the Orisha takes on human form, embodied in the harp, which replaces the electronics. The entrance of the harp marks a special moment in Movement II, at which time the music leaves the tightly wound, cyclical structure of the opening, and moves into a sweeping, whimsical, dance-like texture which builds to the climax of the symphony.
The overall form of the symphony is loosely based on the form of a Santeria ceremony.

August 2002
Joseph Waters

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