Foothills for string orchestra & piano was commissioned by The North Georgia Chamber Symphony and premiered on May 18, 2013, in Dahlonega, Georgia.
Foothills is written in four short movements, comprising a suite in which the piano gradually emerges from an accompanying role into a solo role in the finale. The work uses elements of old-time music including four modes (scales) popular in old-time music (see below).
I. “Fast, vigorous” The forceful opening movement is written in Aeolian mode (the same as natural minor). Except for a lyrical theme for strings which makes two brief appearances, the piano and strings are usually playing the same material. The piano fulfills a function similar to the continuo in Baroque music.
II. “Languorous, not hurried” Written in Mixolydian mode (major scale with lowered 7th), this is essentially a song for strings with piano accompaniment. The song is in memory of my late father Nick Pender, and his rhythmic bass line makes itself well-heard. In the last “verse,” the bass joins the other strings in the melody, playing in its uppermost register.
III. “Slow, lyrical” This movement is a kind of slow, stately dance, written in Dorian mode (minor scale with raised 6th). The piano now begins to take on a more soloistic role, as it has the main theme of the dance in the right hand, accompanied by plucked strings. This theme is eventually shared with the solo string quartet.
IV. “Lively, swinging” In the finale, the piano becomes a true solo instrument, playing figurations reminiscent of piano concerti from the classical period. There are brief allusions to themes from the 1st & 2nd movements. This final movement is written in Ionian mode, better known as good, old-fashioned G-major!
Foothills is featured as the soundtrack for a documentary called Pieced Together. The feature-length film from director/producer Julianne Donofrio tells the story of the barn quilt trails and how one woman's love for her mother changed the American landscape.
Pianist David Iskowitz joins the Takoma Ensemble under the direction of Victoria Gau in this recording of Foothills released in November, 2014. This video features photographs by Jack Anthony, used with kind permission.