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Donald Womack‘Ainaflute/bass or alto flute, clarinet/bass clarinet, piano12:002011
The Hawaiian word ‘aina, usually translated ‘land’, carries a host of meanings. Although it refers to physical elements — the actual soil that makes up the earth upon which we stand — it goes beyond this narrow definition to encompass a greater realm. ‘Aina can refer not only to land, but also to the mountains, the sea, the sky, the world that surrounds us. It suggests not only nature, but also the integral connection that the inhabitants of the land have held for thousands of years, as if nature were the protective sibling of mankind, both living in mutual respect and caring for each other.
The work ‘Aina is a set of character pieces representing various images of Hawai‘i, ranging from broad landscape palette to intimate vignette. Essential elements of Hawai‘i appear. The birth of an island, the eerily beautiful lava fields that sprawl across the land, the twisted yet delicate remnants of great volcanic eruptions, the rich sea life that is sustenance, all painting a picture of the unique place that is Hawai‘i. Hovering above all, the specter of Pele, Hawaiian goddess creator, is present, the irony of her nature as both creator and destroyer heard in the contrasting characters of the music.
The first movement, Lo‘ihi, refers not only to the as-yet-unborn island currently forming off the east coast of the island of Hawai‘i, but symbolically to the creation of the ‘aina itself. The land comes into existence violently, bubbling up from the depths of the ocean over thousands of years until it breaks the surface and becomes a new world, one which will eventually support a wealth of life.
Pele’s Hair, the second movement, refers to volcanic glass formed when bits of lava thrown into the air are twisted and spun by the wind into long, thin strands. They are a delicate filigree that belies the violent forces by which they came to be.
Makai, or sea in Hawaiian, refers here not only to the ocean that surrounds the land, but, more importantly, to the myriad creatures that inhabit the waters. Countless fish, playfully darting as if in unison, provide a bounty that sustains life. A mano, or shark, revered in Hawaiian culture as ‘aumakua or ancestral spirit, enters and commandingly carves a path through the great schools, then disappears as the swarm closes in behind and vibrantly resumes its teeming.
Echoes of a Long Frozen Fire closes the set with a portrait of the lava fields, some thousands of years old, that were left by eruptions and cut across the Hawaiian Islands. Younger fields remain black, lying quiet and desolate in the sun, while ancient fields are barely recognizable, covered by grass and trees that took root over the course of centuries. Standing on these fields gives one the feeling of listening deeply back in time, on a plane far too vast for humans to sense.
‘Aina was commissioned by the Palisades Virtuosi, the 50th work in their commission series, in honor of the 50th state.