The Kennedy Center

Old and Lost Rivers

About the Work

Tobias Picker Composer: Tobias Picker
© Richard Freed

It was just one year ago that Christoph Eschenbach conducted the premiere of Tobias Picker’s Opera Without Words in these concerts. Mr. Eschenbach has been an enthusiastic supporter of this composer’s music since 1988, when he began his tenure as music director of the Houston Symphony Orchestra and Mr. Picker had just completed his assignment as composer in residence there, and had been after him for a big orchestral work for years. The brief work that opens this week’s concerts was one of the first he composed for Houston, as he made clear in his own note for its premiere some 30 years ago:

“Driving east from Houston along Interstate 10, you will come to a high bridge which spans many winding bayous. These bayous were left behind by the great wanderings, over time, of the Trinity River across the land. When it rains, the bayous fill with water and begin to flow. At other times—when it is dry—they evaporate and turn green in the sun. The two main bayous are called ‘Old River’ and ‘Lost River.’ Where they converge, a sign on the side of the highway reads: ‘Old and Lost Rivers.’

            “In 1986 the state of Texas was engaged in a celebration of its sesquicentenary. This event was to be marked by the commissioning of a series of concert openers for the Houston Symphony, of which I had just been appointed composer in residence. Though not a traditional fanfare, Old and Lost Rivers took its pace in what came to be known as the ‘Fanfare Project,’

alongside 20 other compositions from around the world.

            “I composed the piece in the spring of 1986 in Houston, as a tribute to my new home. Later that year, I made a piano version of the piece for Ursula Oppens and presented it to her as a birthday present.”

            When Mr. Eschenbach arrived in Houston he was immediately impressed by the scores Picker had created there. One of his first recordings with the Houston SO, in fact, was a generous collection of Picker’s works, bookended by the orchestral and piano solo versions of Old and Lost Rivers, which title served as heading for the CD. Mr. Eschenbach is the only musician to perform and record both versions of the piece.

 

            As to the music itself, the composer’s own words hardly require elaboration, but it might be observed that it exudes a certain sense of intimacy in its unhurried progress, a sense of contemplation without grand gestures or outsized emotion. Although the pacing is broad, it is not dramatically so. The score is marked “Very slowly,” but also “Flowing, not dragging.” It is in fact, fairly neutral emotionally and, by no means incidentally, it shows off the orchestra effectively enough to remind the listener that it was conceived, after all, a celebratory piece.It was just one year ago that Christoph Eschenbach conducted the premiere of Tobias Picker's Opera Without Words in these concerts. Mr. Eschenbach has been an enthusiastic supporter of this composer's music since 1988, when he began his tenure as music director of the Houston Symphony Orchestra and Mr. Picker had just completed his assignment as composer in residence there, and had been after him for a big orchestral work for years. The brief work that opens this week's concerts was one of the first he composed for Houston, as he made clear in his own note for its premiere some 30 years ago:

"Driving east from Houston along Interstate 10, you will come to a high bridge which spans many winding bayous. These bayous were left behind by the great wanderings, over time, of the Trinity River across the land. When it rains, the bayous fill with water and begin to flow. At other times-when it is dry-they evaporate and turn green in the sun. The two main bayous are called ‘Old River' and ‘Lost River.' Where they converge, a sign on the side of the highway reads: ‘Old and Lost Rivers.'

            "In 1986 the state of Texas was engaged in a celebration of its sesquicentenary. This event was to be marked by the commissioning of a series of concert openers for the Houston Symphony, of which I had just been appointed composer in residence. Though not a traditional fanfare, Old and Lost Rivers took its pace in what came to be known as the ‘Fanfare Project,'

alongside 20 other compositions from around the world.

            "I composed the piece in the spring of 1986 in Houston, as a tribute to my new home. Later that year, I made a piano version of the piece for Ursula Oppens and presented it to her as a birthday present."

            When Mr. Eschenbach arrived in Houston he was immediately impressed by the scores Picker had created there. One of his first recordings with the Houston SO, in fact, was a generous collection of Picker's works, bookended by the orchestral and piano solo versions of Old and Lost Rivers, which title served as heading for the CD. Mr. Eschenbach is the only musician to perform and record both versions of the piece.

            As to the music itself, the composer's own words hardly require elaboration, but it might be observed that it exudes a certain sense of intimacy in its unhurried progress, a sense of contemplation without grand gestures or outsized emotion. Although the pacing is broad, it is not dramatically so. The score is marked "Very slowly," but also "Flowing, not dragging." It is in fact, fairly neutral emotionally and, by no means incidentally, it shows off the orchestra effectively enough to remind the listener that it was conceived, after all, a celebratory piece.