MIST, by Diane Wittry
Slovak State Philharmonic, Kosice
Conductor not indicated; presumably the composer
Pizazz Music [no number.] CD availability: www.dianewittry.com $6.00 + s&h
Spoken introduction by Wittry: 4:48; Mist 16:30
Music Rental: Theodore Presser Company
This exciting - and beautiful--new tone poem, written on the Island of
Elba in the Mediterranean, where Napoleon was exiled, is meant to evoke
a sense of early morning by the sea, which typically is misty there.
The piece could be called impressionistic but it is not at all like
Debussy's La Mer, or Sibelius' Oceanides. Harmonically, it is 'centered
around diminished chords' and the tritone, Wittry says.
There is some aleatoric disruption of timing by the strings. A trumpet
is used as 'an antagonist,' its 'haunting cry' meant to be 'a reminder
of things unsettled.' The orchestration includes unusual instruments and
effects: large and small 'rain sticks,' which are hollow and pierced
bamboo pieces, water pans with actual falling water, and flutes and
trumpets without sounded notes but with the sound of air blown through
them, as well as wind chimes. There is a full complement of woodwinds
and brass, harp, timpani, glockenspiel and suspended cymbal, in addition
All of this may suggest a work more strange-sounding than it is; the
special effects blend well into the whole context. The work begins with
very low and very high tones, giving a growly fog-horn effect. It growls
later also. There are sustained chords, a drum roll, some trills, some
swelling legato melody and some tinkly and shimmering sounds. Before
the midpoint a persistent eight note melodic figure becomes noticeable.
It undulates, becomes mysterious, yields to shorter melodic figures.
A scary moment yields to a quiet bassoon and then a flute.
Dynamics are wide-ranging, sometimes louder than one might associate
with mist. Turning the recorded volume lower than the level of the
spoken introduction may preserve the illusion of a quiet morning.
I became aware of the existence of this piece after helping as a volunteer
usher very recently for a young person's concert by the Milwaukee Symphony.
The concert had a Halloween theme; the audience was a full house of
exceptionally well-behaved elementary school children, and the conductor
was Diane Wittry, of whom I had never heard and who received no local
publicity. Ms. Wittry was not only a very good conductor but was superb
with children. Before playing Grieg's Hall of the Mountain King she
explained the context of the selection within the play and confessed
that she needed a chorus, didn't have one, and asked who would like to
be part of one. The response was enthusiastic. As it happened no singing
was needed, just the rapid, repeat of a short phrase, in English, 'Catch
After the briefest conceivable rehearsal, just the request, 'faster,'
and the prompt of a big flash card from the stage, hundreds of young
voices were added to the orchestral sound in perfect unison timing.
Their achievement won high praise from the podium. After this I had
to know who Wittry was, so I located her website, and found that she
is Music Director of the Allentown Symphony and the Norwalk Symphony.
This recording was listed, and I decided to send for it. If you listen
to it too I am convinced you will not regret it.
Copyright 2009 by R. James Tobin
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