San Francisco Symphony and San Francisco Symphony Chorus
The two large-scale works on this disc are Tracing Mississippi, a four movement concerto for flute and orchestra, and Iholba’ for solo flute, orchestra, and chorus. Both works are inspired and influenced by the composer’s Chickasaw heritage. Tate has an uncanny ability to synthesize his nationalistic ideas into his musical language instead of smearing nationalistic touches onto the music like icing on a cake. Also, Tate has strong communicative powers in his music and a keen structural sense that makes the Chicasaw connections almost unimportant to the listener. These are solid, engaging, and powerful pieces which can be understood without any knowledge of the composer’s culture or inspiration.
The flute concerto is my favorite piece of the two. Tracing Mississippi is colorful, emotional (being based on the Trail of Tears), and well-paced. Each movement does well to evoke the imagery of their respective titles (I especially like the title meaning “Sun Thunder”). The soloist, Chirstine Bailey Davis, performs beautifully. She maintains a commanding tone and presence even in the face of thick orchestrations. Iholba’, with Thomas Robertello on the solo flute and the addition of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, works well to reflect the vivid imagery of the composer’s poetry. Again, the music is emotionally powerful and colorful.
With the endless barrage of “East meets West” compositions, I found this cultural mash-up much more appealing and effective. Tate’s language resonated with me much more than pan-Asian sound worlds tend to. He has clearly taken the Western musical tradition and found a compelling voice that integrates his native culture. Tate is a talented composer able to express a wide spectrum of sorrow and joy in a colorful, engaging, and creative manner.