Brass Band Buizingen under the baton of Luc Vertommen to perform Nigel’s latest brass band work `Earthrise’ at the Flemish Brass Band Championships (Vlaams open brassband kampioenschap).
`Earthrise´ is the name of one of the most iconic photographs in history. The original NASA image named AS8-14-2383 was one of a series of photographs taken by William Anders and the Apollo 8 crew on 24 December 1968 during the first manned mission to the Moon. Astronaut Michael Collins, who was later to take part in the Apollo 11 mission that first landed on Moon and who was working on the ground as capsule communicator for the Apollo 8 team, called their mission “more awe-inspiring than landing on the Moon”.
`Earthrise´ is my second work dealing with the subject of space travel; the first was a work called `Gagarin’ written for wind orchestra.
`Earthrise´ is written in one continuous movement but divided in to three sections fast-slow-fast. I have tried to capture the excitement and expectation that the Apollo 8 mission brought to the world. This is reflected in the extreme virtuosic demands put upon the performers. I have endeavoured in my opening bars to reflect as a musical portrait the description given by the author and aviator Anne Morrow Lindbergh when she witnessed the launch on 21 December 1968 in Florida.
“Slowly, as in a dream, slowly it seemed to hang suspended on a cloud of fire and smoke´ Then followed the noise `a shattering roar of explosions, a trip-hammer over one’s head, under one’s feet, through one’s body. The Earth shakes, cars rattle, vibrations beat in the chest. A roll of thunder prolonged, prolonged, prolonged.”
After the opening section I have emulated the speed and power of Apollo 8’s Saturn V rocket, using the Earth’s gravitational force to catapult it towards the Moon. Preceding the central section of `Earthrise´ is a large scale multilayered cadenza featuring most instruments in the band in free time floating bars and portraying the astronauts floating on the dark side of the Moon. The cadenza acts as a prelude to the kernel of the work, the moment when Earth comes into view as the only coloured object in our monochrome universe. The final section of the work paints a picture of Apollo 8 hurtling back to Earth at an incredible 25,000 miles per hour on its quarter of a million mile journey, hitting Earth’s narrow atmospheric corridor and finally splashing down in the Pacific.
The various moods of `Earthrise´ are reflected and captured in a specially commissioned poem of the same name by Martin Westlake to accompany this score.
By Martin Westlake
On 21 December 1968,
In a daring escape,
Three men with a pocket calculator
Rode a roaring tower of 5.6 million parts
Into Floridean skies
And soared into expectant orbit.
While they gazed back at a world fast changing
From landscape to planet,
Gravity drove them,
Pebbles flung from Earth’s sling,
Across the vast astrolabe
Towards their lunar destination.
Rushing slowly through utter loneliness,
They floated in their silvery dust speck,
Gliding and sliding along an invisible plane
Towards the moon’s bright disk,
And there they hid in the black nothingness
Of the dark side.
Celestial tourists drifting back into light,
Their cameraed necks craning through fogged up windows,
They caught a target of opportunity,
A twin-filmed grain of rock floating with all its peoples,
A colourful, half-lit pendulum,
Swinging out from the moon’s pockmarked cheek.
Borman, Anders and Lovell – the three exceptions,
Gazed at the rest of humanity in its distant invisibility,
Then fell a quarter of a million miles,
Bouncing on the atmosphere before streaking earthward,
An orange slash in a black piece of velvet,
Parachuting down to the Pacific’s waves.
Man had been to the moon, but he had seen the earth,
Seen what gods saw, seen what gods made;
He had seen the earth rise,
Seen frontiers and races disappear.
And, just for a while, it seemed
That man would think as gods thought.