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Michael Colgrass: "Winds of Nagual"

June 23, 2010

Winds of Nagual draws its programmatic inspiration from the writings of Carlos Castaneda, who has become somewhat of a cult icon. Castaneda's writings center on his work for fourteen years in Mesoamerican shamanism with Don Juan Matus.

 

Michael Colgrass, Winds of Nagual

The Ohio State University Wind Symphony

 

Below are program notes from Williams College on Winds of Nagual with a brief biography on Colgrass.

 

Michael Colgrass’s Winds of Nagual (1985) is based on the writings of Carlos Castaneda about his 14-year apprenticeship with Don Juan Matus, a Yaqui Indian sorcerer from Northwestern Mexico. Castaneda met don Juan while researching hallucinogenic plants for his master's thesis in Anthropology at UCLA; however, Castaneda became Juan’s apprentice, training in techniques of pre-Colombian sorcery, the overall purpose of which was to find the creative self—what Juan calls the nagual. As Colgrass writes, “[Although] the score is laced with programmatic indications…, the listener need not have read Castaneda's books to enjoy the work, and I don't expect anyone to follow any exact scenario. My object is to capture the mood and atmosphere created by the books and to convey a feeling of the relationship that develops as a man of ancient wisdom tries to cultivate heart in an analytical young man of the technological age.” One of the techniques Juan utilizes to enable Carlos to alter his view of the world is to induce experiences of what Carlos labels “states of non-ordinary reality,” through the ingestion of peyote buttons or mushrooms. In Winds of Nagual, Colgrass vividly captures several of these hallucinogenic episodes. As Richard Dyer of the Boston Globe wrote after the work’s premiere, "Winds of Nagual is extraordinarily visual, story-telling music in a way that has gone wholly out of fashion since the great Strauss tone poems like Don Quixote… The music is full of the mystery and the matter-of-fact, it has mountains and rivers and bubbles in it, singing and dancing, meditation and the moon, all precisely, colorfully and imaginatively caught. There is even an audible philosophical point about coexistent worlds of spirit and body.” Just as Carlos was initially caught-up only on the superficial aspects of his experiences, trying to understand every nuance and detail of his hallucinations while missing the deeper message of his mentor don Juan, so does Winds of Nagual overwhelm with the dazzling and intricately-detailed surface of Colgrass’s compositional and orchestrational craft. This is music, though, of great depth and emotional potency which, despite its vastly different language, is not far removed from the Andriessen’s philosophical masterpiece, De Materie. Winds of Nagual won First Prize in the Barlow and Sudler International Wind Ensemble Competitions in 1985.

 

Michael Colgrass (b. 1932) was first drawn to music when he saw drummer Ray Bauduc in a movie playing Big Noise from Winnetka with the Bob Crosby Band. When he entered the University of Illinois as a percussion student of Paul Price, he had every intention of studying only jazz; in fact, he made his living as a jazz drummer, performing 5-6 nights a week. Eventually, his interests began to widen, encompassing composition studies with Darius Milhaud, Wallingford Riegger, and Lukas Foss. After graduation, he spent twenty-one months as timpanist in the Seventh Army Symphony Orchestra in Stuttgart, Germany, before moving to New York City in l956, where he free-lanced as a percussionist with such diverse groups as the New York Philharmonic, Dizzy Gillespie's band, the original West Side Story orchestra on Broadway, the Columbia Recording Orchestra's Stravinsky conducts Stravinsky series, and numerous ballet, opera and jazz ensembles.

 

Colgrass has an uncanny ability to write accessible music that simultaneously challenges the intellect and stirs the emotions. His highly personal compositional technique draws on a diversity of styles, reflecting his widespread interests, and involves a free-flowing mixture of tonal and atonal harmonic language. His compositions have been commissioned and performed by such groups as the Boston Symphony, the New York Philharmonic, The Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society, the Manhattan and Muir String Quartets, the Brighton Festival in England, and numerous other orchestras, wind ensembles, chamber groups, choral groups and soloists. Colgrass is the recipient of many grants and fellowships, including two Guggenheim Fellowships, a Rockefeller Grant, the 1978 Pulitzer Prize for Music for Déjà vu and an Emmy Award in 1982 for the Public Broadcasting System documentary "Soundings: The Music of Michael Colgrass." Besides composing, Colgrass has for twenty-five years been giving workshops throughout North America in performance excellence, combining Grotowski physical training, mime, dance and Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). He is the author of My Lessons with Kumi - How I Learned to Perform with Confidence in Life and Work.

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