Wendell Berry’s prophetic words in “The Porch Over the River” describe a pastoral scene which becomes darkly reflective of our human footprint. It’s as though the sounds of the river, frogs, phoebes, and trees are momentarily interrupted by the passing sound of traffic or the distant whine of a jet engine. But our focus returns to the river and trees.
This setting for baritone, clarinet, and piano traces the poems reflective nature, beginning with a figure in the piano that is both moving and static, like a river. As the protagonist looks upwards, a more complex middle section develops over a ground bass (a repeated, descending bass line in the piano), culminating in music that seems to touch the “high dark marked by the flight of men.” Her gaze returns to the river and trees, once again always moving and always still.
Commissioned by clarinetist Carrie RavenStem, The Porch Over the River premieres May 20, 2018 in Louisville, Kentucky at the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts by A/tonal with baritone Chad Sloan and pianist Jessica Litwiniec Dorman.