Judith Weir: The Welcome Arrival of Rain
Judith Weir was born in 1954 in Cambridge, and at a young age she began learning the oboe. Weir in her youth performed regularly with the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain. She studied composition whilst at school with none other than John Tavener. From here she then earned her place at Cambridge University, where she continued her composition studies. After she graduated she became heavily involved in music education in both the south of England and then Scotland. During this period she still composed, and it was mainly operas that allowed her to make a name for herself within the classical music world.
During the 1990s she became the resident composer with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, and it was at this time she wrote much more orchestral-based pieces. She also experimented by combining chorus and orchestra in many of her works.
During her lifetime thus far, Weir has been commissioned to write for some of the most professional orchestras and chorus’ in the world. She has also worked with notable conductors and soloists. Weir has travelled to the USA to work with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. In 1995 she received her CBE and then in 2007 the Queen’s Medal for Music. 2014 saw Weir appointed as Master of The Queen’s Music.
The Welcome Arrival of Rain was commissioned by the Minnesota Orchestra for their centennial celebrations. The work was premiered in January 2003 by the MO, conducted by Osmo Vanska.
Opening with a flourish of sparkling broken chords, Weir describes her thought processes for this part of the work:
“This profuse and exuberant piece arose out of bare beginnings; a scale passage followed by a simple melody. Whilst I composed it, as the notes and the pages multiplied, I began to think of a comparison with the arrival of the monsoon in India, when aridity is pierced by life-giving rain; and humans, animals and vegetation revel in sudden activity and fertility. Although the monsoon is expected early, its arrival is always joyously surprising. The music’s title was inspired by a passage from the 18,000 verse Hindu text, Bhagavata Purana.”
The references to rain and water often return in different forms, situating it at the heart of this work. The open six-note broken chord at the beginning of the piece is then heard a number of times in various forms across this 16-minute work. Fizzing woodwind rush through passages as the strings support with chordal accompaniments. This angular section is then opposed by a simple lyrical melody.
Led by the strings, this luscious melody is rich in harmony and texture as the strings move as one unit. This section is much more open and much less constrained than before, offering a feeling of light relief. The horns and trumpets join here, which bolsters the texture and sound. Weir makes use of the whole ensemble, including a prominent solo section for the drums to signify the ever-growing energy of the piece. The energy woven between the notes in The Welcome Arrival of Rain keeps the hope that accompanies monsoon season.
A collection of variations are then heard from different sections of the orchestra, before a gentle rainy coda finishes the piece off in scintillating style.
Judith Weir’s The Welcome Arrival of Rain is a testament to the composer’s keen eye for orchestration as well as working with theme and variations form. The piece is vivacious and full of life, giving the listener a truly magical depiction of monsoon season.
Ⓒ Alex Burns