Length: c. 10 minutes
Orchestration: 3 flutes (3rd = piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets. 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (bass drum, 2 bongos, caxixi, clave, conga, guiro, hi-hat, 2 log drums, maraca, marimba, sizzle cymbal, suspended cymbal, tamborim, tam-tam, 3 temple blocks, 2 timbales, 3 tom-toms, and vibraphone), piano, harp, and strings
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performances (world premiere)
Tania León has been a socially engaged musical force from her earliest years. After arriving in New York City from her native Cuba in 1967, she became a founding member of Dance Theatre of Harlem, establishing its music school as well as leading its orchestra. She instituted the Brooklyn Philharmonic’s Community Concerts Series, and she has served both the American Composers Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic as a music advisor. In 2016, the Los Angeles Philharmonic commissioned her work Pa’lante for members of the International Contemporary Ensemble and the YOLA at HOLA Symphonic Winds, which they premiered at the Ojai Festival that summer under her baton. Most recently, the University of Central Arkansas has commissioned her to write an opera, The Little Rock Nine, about the forced desegregation of Little Rock in 1957, with a libretto by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
The composer’s multi-cultural, multi-ethnic background provides a wellspring of inspiration for Ser, a multi-faceted rumination on authenticity that she dedicates “to my ancestors.” The music flows with a stream-of-consciousness dream logic, but it also forms a sort of textural rondo, still meditations cross-referencing sections marked “ritmico,” “playful,” and “jubilant,” alternating modes of “being” and “doing.”
It begins in quiet mystery, a sort of “night music” of the soul, with a chirping clarinet flickering over soft string harmonics. As the rest of the winds enter and the basses punctuate the stillness with pizzicato chords, the piece gathers energy and momentum, erupting into a joyful dance. After the initial explosion, much of this dance also steps softly, with the woodwinds and brass playing like the horns of an abstracted Afro-Cuban big band. The contrasting sections that follow reveal the range of León’s sonic experience and her creative extrapolation of that, from assertive piano to a goading bass line, from fluttering flute trio to gorgeous sustained string chords. She works softly in aural half-light for the most part, but with great color and vitality.
Formally rounded, the essay ends with a pared down recollection of past events – those fluttering flutes and the chirping clarinet over a bass drone and the rustle of a maraca.
— John Henken