Jack Gallagher Symphony No. 2 Ascendant & Quiet Reflections
Jack Gallagher. That sounds like a character you might see in a Spaghetti Western, doesn't it?
"In searching the Internet, I found a Jack Gallagher who was strung up for something or other, so I'm hoping I won't get confused with that person." For the past 37 years composer Jack Gallagher has served on the faculty of The College of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio. Gallagher was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and raised on Long Island. He says to some degree, he still feels genetically disposed as an East Coaster. Now some might say Ohio is the East Coast. "If you're brought up in Long Island, Ohio is kind of the Wild West," Gallagher quips.
JoAnn Falletta and the London Symphony Orchestra recently released their second recording of works by this American composer. This CD features Gallagher's Symphony No. 2, Ascendant, and another work titled "Quiet Reflection," which is reminiscent of a piece by Aaron Copland with a similar title an idea that may have been sparked during a master class Gallagher took with Copland while working toward his doctoral degree at Cornell University.
"Well, in a sense, I suppose the quiet is not entirely a coincidence," Gallagher explains. "As a trumpet player, I played Quiet City. As you know, the trumpet and English horn are the solo voices in that work. And that work has always struck me as a very beautiful one. So I wouldn't be surprised if some of it was sort of bubbling beneath the surface when I was writing 'Quiet Reflections'."
Gallagher's Second Symphony, subtitled Ascendant, is anything but quiet. In fact, Gallagher says its soundscape was inspired by Stravinsky's ballet, Petrushka.
"And one of the pieces I heard early on was a recording of Petrushka done by Ansermet and L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande," Gallagher says. "I first heard the notes of Petrushka via that recording. As a result, one weekend I went to a record store and found a recording from the London Symphony Orchestra and Eugene Goosens. I fell in love with that recording and played it to the point where it was almost worn out, because Stravinsky's use of orchestral coloration struck me then and still strikes me now as being nothing short of magical. So a lot of those sounds played a very important role in my sense of the sheer intoxication and allure of the symphony orchestra."
The subtitle, Ascendant, reflects Gallagher's hope that this work may in some way embody the human spirit's ability to achieve on the highest level possible. "That's an aspiration that has always meant a lot to me, both within music as well as outside of music," he says. "And I wanted the piece therefore to describe what I hoped would be a larger-than-life arc, almost of sparingly heroic proportions. And a title embodying upwardness would therefore be essential to it, as I hoped the ethos of upwardness and rising might be important to its expression as well."
As you listen to the swirling, undulating excitement in the first movement, you may suddenly realize, Hey, this sounds like Stravinsky! And you'd be right.
"So it occurred to me that the narrative of the piece should embody a first movement that is rather bold and extravagant, at least in terms of its duration, as well as in the kind of argument it describes," Gallagher continues. "The argument I had in mind was one in which there is a good deal of turbulence but with the promise of reaching a kind of eventual affirmative outcome. At one point, after the turbulence has established itself, I felt it was time to express my great admiration for the sound world of Petrushka by having a short reference to that, eight minutes in the first movement. It's not very long, but I'm very glad you were able to hear it.
"I felt that after the turbulence of the first movement that a little bit of a respite was called for. Frankly, I've always admired the good-natured bonhomie of the scherzi of some of the masters. It gave me a chance to lighten up on the textures a great deal and to use more dance-like rhythms, which I admire very much."
That second movement, which is marked "Playfully," also sports another fun element. "The structure of the second movement is a modified palindrome," Gallagher explains. "If we speak about large-scale structures it's A, B, C, D … reading from beginning to end. Then a middle section, an E section, a fugato, which uses material from earlier in the movement and then after that, the movement goes back out in the opposite direction. So structurally it is a palindrome."
It's been an exciting ride for Jack Gallagher, the composer, to work with JoAnn Falletta, who's been a tireless advocate for living American composers. It's also been unforgettable to work with the London Symphony Orchestra, who inspired him as an impressionable young man.
"I'll be forever grateful to [Falletta] for doing this," Gallagher says. "So many other people helped make the recording possible, and I just feel very honored to make this recording with this wonderful orchestra. My hope is that maybe this might not be the last one."
Jack Gallagher will ride again. He's already working on his third symphony.