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Here, The Cliffs
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Here, The Cliffs
Hilary Tann

Frantisek Novotny, violin;ebra Richtmeyer, alto saxophone; Kirk Trevor, conductor;Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra


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In 1947 South Wales, the coalmines were still open, the landscape was green, yellow and brown, the mountaintops were bare, and the sky was close. This is where Hilary Tann was born and raised, in the town of Ferndale high up in the enclosed valley, Rhondda Fach. Inspired by the natural world around her, much of Hilary Tann's music can be illustrated as the composing out of images and landscapes. To understand this compositional process, it is essential to see Wales through the composer's eyes. She explains, “When I think about the Wales that I know, I think of the rock close to the surface; I think of the detail that one can see at one's feet and then the sudden vista that opens up as one reaches the mountaintop and looks across the plateau; and I think of the mist curling up the side of the mountain.”

Tann began writing music at age six because she had a waltz-like melody in her head and she wanted to remember it. She became a cellist in the Glamorgan Youth Orchestra as well as in the National Youth Orchestra of Wales, and later attended the University of Wales in Cardiff to study music. Leaving Cardiff as the first woman to graduate with a first class honors degree in composition, she later became one of the first women to graduate with a Ph. D. in composition from Princeton University in the United States. Remaining in America, Tann joined the editorial staff of Perspectives of New Music and was an active member on a number of Executive Committees for the International League of Women Composers (ILWC) from 1982 to 1995. Instrumental in the merging of the ILWC, American Women Composers, and the International Congress of Women in Music, she remains a composer member of the unified International Alliance for Women in Music. Hilary Tann lives in the southern foothills of the Adirondack Mountains and is the John Howard Payne Professor of Music at Union College in Schenectady, NY.

Further understanding about Hilary Tann as a composer can be drawn from her experience as a Welsh immigrant to America who found her way back to Wales via Japan. While living and working in the United States, a deep interest in the traditional music of Japan led to study of the shakuhachi, an ancient Japanese vertical bamboo flute. She was entranced by its clear lines and varied textures. While studying the shakuhachi seriously, Tann's own voice began to reveal itself. Llef was composed in 1988 as a duet for shakuhachi (later flute) and cello. The name comes from a minor-key Welsh hymn tune, and is translated from Welsh meaning, “a cry from the heart”. A cry from the heart (mura - iki) is also a shakuhachi technique, and Llef contains three such cries. For Tann the name has double meaning, for it was the first composition she chose to give a Welsh name.

To further her study of traditional Japanese music and continue to develop her unique voice, Tann traveled to Japan in 1990 to teach at Kansai Gaidai University. She describes, “I came to Japan from America as a Welsh woman, and I found aspects of where I was in Japan between Kyoto and Osaka to contain elements of Welshness: close communities, smiling in the streets, chats with neighbors, small markets, well-kept gardens, and the mist of an island country.” Her studies in Japan further influenced her understanding of silence, stillness, and image. Hilary Tann believes the bone, sinew, and vein of her work is a synthesis of her Welsh heritage, Japanese influence and study, and time in the United States. Among many works reflecting this synthesis is the large orchestral piece, From Afar, included on this recording, and her recent Shakkei, a diptych of two contrasting landscaped images for oboe solo and small chamber orchestra. She remarks, “I prefer to think of myself as a world citizen. I live in America, but my heart and my music is Welsh.”

The CD, Here, The Cliffs, is a retrospective recording of Hilary Tann's orchestral music from 1994-2004, performed by the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra, Kirk Trevor, conductor. Image is immediately captured as each title reflects the picture and motion within a given landscape. Tann's connection with Wales is heard in three of the five selections while, of the remaining two, one recalls her current home in Upstate NY and the other her time in Japan.

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