NEOWISE was commissioned by the Trinity Symphony Orchestra, directed by Dr. Joseph Kneer, with generous support from the Stieren Arts Enrichment Grant.
During the summer of 2020, a rare sight emerged in the night sky. Comet NEOWISE rounded the sun and spent weeks visible to the naked eye during July. Only discovered months earlier, NEOWISE became the most impressive comet to fly by our planet in decades. I have always been an avid follower of astronomy and remember vividly seeing comet Hale-Bopp in 1997, amazed by its sinewy shape and pale glow. Since then, there have not been any comets visible to the naked eye in the northern hemisphere until NEOWISE. The year 2020 was marred by the global Covid-19 pandemic. Many countries, including the United States, locked down to slow down the spread of this extremely contagious disease, disrupting the lives of countless people around the world. While humanity was unable to do so many things that had been taken for granted, nature put on a show.
This piece portrays the journey of comet NEOWISE through the inner solar system from our viewpoint on Earth. As the comet very gradually gains speed falling towards the sun, the music begins distantly and mysteriously, with an undulating carpet of sound in the strings supporting a questioning clarinet solo. Low brass chords swell in and out of focus and gradually replace the woodwinds, leading the music to grow in speed and energy. The woodwinds sing a graceful and winding melody over a blanket of delicate strings and tambourine rhythms, continuing to build steam as the comet accelerates towards Earth. Rounding the sun, the comet's coma expands and the music blossoms, suddenly pulling back in speed and scope and returning to the vast openness where the music began. A solo bassoon imitates the original clarinet solo, and the brass chords turn into a luminous chorale that launches the music to a high velocity once again. A more massive climax punctuated by bells and resounding brass chords sees NEOWISE traverse our skies. As the comet speeds away from us, the mysterious texture from the opening returns a final time. The clarinet solo also returns, but now from offstage, distant echoes from an eventful close encounter with the Earth.
Duration: ca 9'30"
- 2 Flutes, 2 Oboes, 2 Bb Clarinets, 2 Bassoons
- 4 Horns in F, 2 Trumpets in C or B flat, 3 Trombones, 1 Tuba
- Timpani, 3 Percussion
Wind Ensemble Instrumentation
- Piccolo, 2 Flutes, 2 Oboes, 2 Bassoons
- 3 Clarinets in Bb, 1 Bass Clarinet in Bb
- 2 Alto Saxophones in Eb, 1 Tenor Saxophone in Bb, 1 Baritone Saxophone in Eb
- 3 Trumpets in B flat, 4 Horns in F, 3 Trombones, 1 Euphonium, 1 Tuba
- Timpani, 5 Percussion