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A New Work for Cello and String Orchestra: The River Cam (With Recording!)

April 20, 2011 at 2:40 pm UTC

Last fall I spent a term at Cambridge University as a Visiting Fellow (at the gorgeous Sidney Sussex College). I wrote and conducted and taught and attended classes, and generally had the time of my life.

I also walked a lot. Every day I would stroll through the streets of Cambridge out to Newnham, a 25-30 minute walk each way, following the idyllic banks along The River Cam. Here are a few pictures of the river I took with my iPhone whilst on my walks:

The Bridge of Sighs at St. John’s College:

Near Trinity College:

The chapel at King’s College:

As I walked alongside the river these little melodies began forming in my mind, informed by the sights, the sounds, the history of the land and of the University. Day after day I would sing these fragments, not really knowing what they were or what they might become. Around this time the cellist Julian Lloyd Webber asked me to write a piece for his 60th birthday concert, and I knew even as he was asking I would use these fragments as the foundation of the new work.

As the piece was beginning to take form I realized that I was writing a ‘pastoral piece’, undeniably British, with serious echoes of Elgar and Vaughan Williams. I didn’t care. I just tried to follow the thread of the melodic fragments and capture as best I could the quiet and heartbreaking beauty of The River Cam.

The full piece is 10 minutes long, but here are the first three pages of the score:

The River Cam (DRAFT) pgs. 1-3

Here is a very rough recording of the first three pages (from my iPhone again) played here in a reading session by the wonderful Sinfonia Temesa.

The piece was first performed last week at the Royal Festival Hall, played by the extraordinary Philharmonia Orchestra; Julian Lloyd Webber, cello; I was conducting. The piece will probably be in print this fall, available from Chester Music.

  • Deb A

    Absolutely beautiful, Eric! I can see walking along the river and having it speak to you just like what you put on paper.

    Thank you for sharing your vision!

  • http://www.leegwilkinson.com Lee

    There is music and then there is something which interprets a vision and stirs the soul. For me Eric you do the latter, and the music is amazing too.

  • Chris

    I was playing in the orchestra for this recording (Sinfonia Tamesa)! Thanks so much for posting this, it's beautiful. Looking forward to hearing a full recording some time.

  • http://look75.wordpress.com/ GJ

    Wow! Stunning! I love how multi-perspectival your music is – suits the Cam perfectly. Will there be a full recording out soon?

  • Sally

    Thank you for posting the story behind the piece, I am not a musician so cant with any authority comment on the echoes of Elgar or Williams but I am English and have a special place in my heart for Cambridge, and riverwalks. Pastoral maybe, for me you really did capture a resonance from the city that goes much deeper than just the green and pleasant land of Britain.

    I did hear and picture all the layers of history . Walking along those banks, always seemed to give me a sense of the carefree, perhaps all the more tangible in relativity to the worthy and earnest endeavours of all that was around.

    I always felt grounded yet free as I walked, able to think all manner of bright thoughts as well as serious contemplations; all cushioned by the calm of the water and the gentleness of the green. I really look forward to hearing the whole piece, you have captured in music a real sense of place for me. Thank you

  • http://www.rowansgroup.co.uk Steven Levitt

    As a piano teacher and former cellist living just outside Cambridge in a village on the RIver Cam, this envokes many tranquil days sitting by the river fishing and recouperating following an accident that cost me the tips of two fingers (hence the former cellist).

    That time was not the best for me, but the times by the river were very healing – this is what is envoked by the music…

  • http://www.karynnecourts.com Karynne Courts

    Thank you Eric. Cello is my favourite instrument and you have just reminded me why this is so! I love how technology makes it possible to share your journey, which you do so generously… imagine if we could have chatted like this with Wolfy, Ludwig, Fred, Franz and the other masters?

  • Taylor Holmwood

    Well. That was profoundly lovely. Go back, Eric. Write more. Just go.

  • Misty

    beautiful

  • Shelagh Fisher

    So, So beautiful. I can picture my beloved husband (RIP) in his hey-day on the Cam. He was at Sidney in the 60s. Thank you so much….

  • Amy

    *sigh* should I ever behold the River Cam myself, I don't doubt that I shall hear this most glorious music & feel quite at home.

    I'm listening to this for the fifth consecutive time – & its still tugging at my heart strings. It sounds to me like those sweet, very old memories one digs up from time to time, with only the slightest tinge of sadness.

    Am so looking forward to hearing a full recording / hearing it performed live (that would be the ideal, wouldn't it :))

    Thank you for giving us honest art.

  • Ann Sturdivant

    Very nice – would love to have a recording of it on my MP3 player.

  • http://iambeginnings.blogspot.com Emily

    This is beautiful. I can't wait for the sheet music! :D

  • Danny

    Very nice. I look forward to the entire piece.

  • jeanie

    Beautiful!!! So, easy to sit and listen as your music paint the meadows and blows the breezes…so peaceful. Thank you for sharing your gifts with us all :)

  • http://www.youtube.com/xoclkox Courtney Lea K.

    Absolutely gorgeous! Found myself with tears in my eyes just from the sheer beauty of the sound.

    CANNOT WAIT to actually listen to the whole thing! :D

  • Sam Hubbard

    Even after the first bar of music, I could understand and hear everything you said in the description of this beautiful piece.

    After hearing all of it, I know really want to go and have another walk round Cambridge =P

    It's been two years since I've been there, and hearing this is honestly like I'm hearing the sound of the sunlight filtering through the leaves and the river lapping up against the stone banks. Really warm, bucolic stuff.

    And I think I may have heard just the slightest hint of Rakút in there =P

  • Brad Sampson

    Absolutely beautiful. Sometimes in the recording the harmonics start to ring and it sounds like there's an accompanying choir. The world would love to see more orchestral music by living composers. Lots of it.

  • Tori Fisher

    Simply amazing

  • Brad McCarty

    I agree, the Philharmonia is extraordinary. I heard them in the big hall by the Thymes, Royal Festival Hall (if going to London, y'all don't miss it). Later I visited the Cam, Kings College, and its environs. You gifted me with remembrance of those days in the mid 1980's. Nostalgia perhaps, but definitely you have recaptured the mood for me.

  • http://mariapetrova.com/bodytalk Maria Petrova

    Tears, of course.

    It sounds like a happy reunion…

    Youthful, hopeful, loving… Intimate… I feel known, seen, expected. Like some beloved soul has been waiting for me.

    Love the iPhone pics :)

    Thank you so much…

  • Ian

    There's this feeling that there are hardly words to describe, but I will try ~ It's a sort of longing and yearning, summer and Cambridge and England, love, nostalgia, strife and impossibly beautiful glory. You feel it best when it's summer and you are in love. Words can't really do it justice, but music does – "The River Cam" does.

    Thank you.

  • Pati Piper

    Thank you for being……so perfect …..so tone poem….so gorgeous…..i can see and hear the river cam…..tears ….so lovely …….thank you….

  • Darrell Polka

    Poignant, heart wrenching, and you can hear the beauty and reflect and meditate on the immense beauty of the River Cam as you listen. An absolutely moving and emotional work. Congratulations on creating such a gorgeous piece of historic significance!

  • Jennifer

    So very beautiful. I could see this as a movie score . I get lost in it. Thank you for sharing this wonderful creation with us.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Zhaboka Aviel

    Oh, dear cosmos. This music is truly holy.

  • Felipe Guzmán

    Beautiful.

  • Miggy Torres

    This is so awesome! :-D And already 27 comments!

  • Elliott

    Methinks I heard the opening progression from "Lux" in the first measure…?

    I can't get over this. Call me biased, but I think this is one of the most beautiful things I've ever heard from you EVER, followed closely by "Lux", "Water Night" and "A Boy and a Girl".

    Excellent job, maestro. :)

  • Amy Lynn

    This is why I live

    To hear the music in me

    Singing through your hands

    Thank you.

  • jacob erickson

    Eric thats going to be so fantastic cant wait to hear the whole thing woooooooooooooo hhoooooooooooooooo

  • http://www.sinfoniatamesa.org.uk/ Ursula

    Hi Eric, Ursula here from Sinfonia Tamesa. What an absolutely gorgeous piece – I'm so delighted this recording exists. It was lovely to read your blog on it and piece together the history: the echoes of Elgar and VW are ever present but it's also very much your own. Just for your interest, the orchestra was choc-a-block full of Cambridge graduates (about half!) so this would have meant a lot to them too!

    Pleasure and delight to work with you.

    Ursula

    • http://www.ericwhitacre.com Eric

      Thanks, Ursula! Please tell the orchestra what a wonderful time I had – let's do it again sometime!

  • Ari Borhanian

    Absolutely fantastic, Eric–as usual.

  • Haley F

    It's beyond beautiful, thank you so much for this!

  • J.D.

    I really wish there was a movie that was based around your music, it would be the best movie ever created. :)

  • Jonathan Bailey

    I was in the front row at the premier of this work and have to say it was the most atmospheric and emotional piece of music I've ever heard. Julian played it beautifully and I only hope it won't be to long before it is released.

  • Larry Solt

    Thank you for your composition skills, You have kept the "Romantic period" alive with this sensitive and emotional piece.

    I hope your venture into film music continues. Millions of people need to hear your inspiring music.

  • Laura Grabow

    I heard this on NPR while driving home from work. It was a very quiet, cold, moonless night in the mountains of Idaho and this piece had a profound influence on me.I am so glad I heard this piece and hope I can hear it performed live.