Monarch

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Monarch

23.35

orchestra

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  • Premiere: 23 July 2004 / Presser Pavilion, Philadelphia, PA / Orchestra Society of Philadelphia / Daron Hagen
  • Instrumentation: 2.2.2.2-2.2.2.1-perc-str
  • Duration: 6

Program Note

They were in the air, and so heavy on the branches of the pine trees that the branches bent toward the ground, supplicants to gravity and mass and sheer enthusiasm.
— Sue Halpern, from Four Wings and a Prayer

The idea of the monarch butterfly is far less interesting than the truths that surround it.  It is thought of as a delicate, ephemeral and silent creature and, while rain and low temperatures can render it immobile, it is strong enough to support the only two-way migration pattern known of in the insect class - the type of migration expected more of birds or whales than of butterflies.  Monarchs east of the Rocky Mountains return each year to roosts in the mountains of Central Mexico, traveling over a distance so great that no single butterfly completes the entire journey, but gives birth along the way to those that do.  While this is a silent migration, the arrival of hundreds of millions of these insects at the forested mountaintops of Mexico makes a noise so tremendous that it has been described as "the winds of a hurricane."  Clusters of monarchs weigh down the branches of firs often snapping them off completely.

Having heard of the massive moisture-bearing weather system that moved into Central Mexico in January of 2002, resulting in the deaths of tens of millions of monarchs, I became fascinated by these truths.

In Monarch, I explore various, often symmetrical, gestures that mimic the motion of a monarch beating its wings.  These gestures are repeated in canon and presented in augmented and diminished forms as they themselves cover the two-way migration through four pitch groups, based in E flat, C, D and A Major. Orchestral choirs become distinct masses of migrating monarchs, working towards their final arrival at their winter roost.

— Gilda Lyons, 2003