Commissioned by the Tam and Young Arts Chair at Iolani School. It was premiered in Honolulu by the Iolani Concert Orchestra and later performed with Ransom Wilson conducting and Peter Askim as soloist at the 2005 International Society of Bassists Convention.
“Islands” is based on the four major islands of the Hawaiian chain: the jagged contours of Kaua’i’s Na Pali coast, the play and shimmer of Oahu’s surf, Maui’s majestic Haleakala sunrise and the bubbling and crackling of the Big Island’s lava fields.
The piece opens with an “aerial” view of the approach to Kaua’i’s rocky coastline: from high, static, cloud-like harmonies, the silhouette of a jagged melody appears in the violins. Evoking the Island’s cliffs and mountains, the motive permeates the movement, leaping jaggedly up and down, propelled constantly forward by an insistent syncopated rhythm.
In the second movement, the soloist plays wave-like, shimmering arpeggiated figures, accompanying the gently rising and falling melodies in the orchestra. The glistening harmonies and the arching melodic swells were inspired by the play of the sunlight on Oahu’s waves.
The third movement emerges steadily from darkness, rising higher and gradually coming to life with motion, much as the first hint of daybreak enters Maui’s Haleakala Crater, illuminating and warming the cold, desolate landscape. The soloist climbs inexorably to the highest register of the instrument with lyrical, reaching, expressive lines. The upward motion dissipates at the end of the movement, leaving behind only the high clouds of the midday sun.
The fourth movement begins with subterranean rumblings in the low strings, bubbling to the surface with ever-increasing agitation. The hissing and crackling of lava rising from the depths is summoned forth by the lugubrious, unpredictable, and sometimes violent textures within the orchestra. The soloist plays searing, molten lines against a backdrop of gnarled snaps, growls and orchestral outbursts. The work finally erupts in an energetic, rhythmically vibrant evocation of the work’s beginning, much as molten lava cools to form the jagged outline of a new Hawaiian island.