Reviews: Orchestral

Jefferson In His Own Words:

“Shatin engages complex rhythms and timbre-play to create a fascinating palette of sound for what is essentially an orchestra-narrator duet. Maestro Steven Smith was attuned to this balance, and, just as importantly, to the shape of the music on its own….In the first movement, Political Passion, rhythms crackled like the fire in front of which Jefferson sat to write about his vision of a bill of rights. At one point in the second movement, the woodwinds passed around a pensive melodic line, effectively telling the emotional story behind Jefferson’s constructed argument between Head and Heart, the movement’s title. The third movement Justice Cannot Sleep, contrasted roiling agitation with lyrical bits, while the brass delightfully closed the fourth movement, Freedom of Reason, with a fanfare”.  – Richmond Times Dispatch

“Shatin’s large-scale, impressionistically colorful orchestration evokes misty Blue Ridge vistas in its quieter and more contemplative moments, but more often enlarges, with some turbulence, on the text’s suggestions of Jefferson’s inner emotional life. The portrait that Shatin paints is far from the usual picture of an enigmatic and cerebral man. This performance by conductor Steven Smith and the Richond Symphony played up the color and drama of Shatin’s score.”  – LETTER V, The Virginia Classical Music Blog

“Judith Shatin’s Jefferson in His Own Words gives American orchestras a rare opportunity–the chance to represent real-world issues, in a meaningful way, in a symphonic context. Judith Shatin has selected some of the most powerful and poignant texts to come from Jefferson’s pen, arranged them so that a non-musician may serve as narrator, and accompanied them in a way our audiences found spellbinding.”  – Benajmin Rous, Associate Conductor, The Virginia Symphony

“Judith Shatin has written a dramatic and provocative work; her choice of Jefferson’s letters is diverse and interesting, and her music beautifully illuminates the text to offer a fascinating portrait of the man and his times”  – Kate Tamarkin, Conductor, The Charlottesville and University Symphony Orchestra

Piping The Earth:

“The evening’s high point came midway through the second half, with the premiere of Judith Shatin’s exuberant and captivating ‘Piping the Earth.’ Vividly orchestrated and bursting with imaginative detail, the piece grabs a listener’s attention right from the opening moement, an ominous stillness in which a low wind can be heard creeping through the bassoons, cellos and bassdrum.

Shatin’s writing is rhythmically urgent (percussive outbursts punctuating the score are among the many echoes of early Stravinsky, especially ‘The Rite of Spring’) and pursues a course both logical and surprising. Evocations of the wind, for example, recur periodically, associated with a fundamental pitch, and there are other clear structural points. At the same time, there are wonderful bursts of inspiration, such as a silvery dominant-seventh chord that courses up and down like a crystal fountain through the woodwinds and strings. At nine minutes, the score is exactly proportioned, but still left a listener eager for more.” – San Francisco Chronicle

“On hand for the evening was Judith Shatin, the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor and Director of the Virginia Center for Computer Music at the University of Virginia. Her composition “Piping the Earth” is a modernistic, almost atonal piece which lays bare the sounds created by the wind as it moves though different spaces. Difficult to sandwich between Haydn and Brahms, but a stylish work nonetheless.” – Richmond Times Dispatch

“The musical firestorm of Piping the Earth, a new one-movement work by Judith Shatin, dazzles with its array of active sound surfaces an shapes.” – San Francisco Examiner

“…It hardly prepared one for the musical firestorm of ‘Piping the Earth,’ a new, one-movement work by Judith Shatin. Apparently conceived as an investigation of the way sound changes in space, the finished work does propose an active and ever-changing soundscape over a constant (if hardly static) harmonic base. It also enthralls. There’s no sense of detached, solipsistic, intellectual enterprise in this work, which dazzles with its array of active sound surfaces and shapes. Falletta’s sure grasp of the work allowed it to take its multi-directionaly course with confidence about its outcome. The performance was breathtaking.’ – San Francisco Herald

“Piping the Earth is a colorful and crowd-pleasing piece that works well in many concert contexts. It was a great pleasure for me and for the Richmond Symphony to discover this score, and our audiences loved the color, sweep and drama. It comments nicely on other orchestral pieces, or stands well by itself.” –Conductor Mark Russell Smith

Stringing the Bow:

“[Stringing the Bow] is a marvelously inventive piece, informed with a fine sense of musical logic and a precise knowledge of the special qualities of string instruments and what makes them sound good in ensemble.  The music showed a composer fully in control of her material at all points and attuned to what makes an audience come back for more.” – The Washington Post, Read More


Arche, featuring a warmly handsome solo performance by violist Rosemary Glyde, made extensive use of themes with a wave-form profile and also employed a tonally oriented 12-note serialism as its harmonic premise. A good deal of thematic evolution was suggested in this broodingly lyrical, sometimes darkly dramatic work…” – The Houston Post

Aura [Orchestra]:


“The work has a distinct post-romantic quality while maintaining a tonally-flexible freedom; the use of orchestral timbres is always effective and evocative of the  somewhat mystical “Aura” surrounding blocks, or more often, clouds of sound materials. As Ms. Allen has said about this work, “Just as every verbal utterance has its own tone of voice, its affective extension, so does every sound. It is this ineffable extra that “Aura” celebrates.”  – All Music Guide


“Judith Shatin…shows a rich and disciplined imagination in her … Ruah (‘Air, Wind or Breath’) for flute and orchestra. In Hebrew, as in many other languages, the word for ‘breath’ is also the word for ‘spirit’ (which is the Latin word for ‘breath’), and Ruah is, in fact, a multifaceted essy on the human spirit, its windlike freedom of movement and volatile changes of mood, summarized in the titles of the three movements: SoaringSerene, and Impassioned. It is beautifully performed and recorded…by flutist Renee Siebert, for whom it was composed, with Robert Black conducting the Prism Orchestra.” – The Washington Post

“The music sounded alluring and vital at every step….” – San Francisco Chronicle

“Judith Shatin’s music for flute and chamber orchestra [Ruah, second movement] has a worn, expressionistic edge–it strikes plaintive chords that dissipate like smoke.” – The Village Voice

“…But it was the performance of flutist Sara Stern, playing Ruah, a flute concerto by Virginia composer Judith Shatin, that held the audience spellbound. From the first movement, Soaring, which portrayed all manner of things in flight from the tiniest creatures to the most majestic angels, through the pensive second movement and on to the work’s final movement, Impassioned, flutist and orchestra breathed as one being. Conductor Cal Stewart Kellogg’s solid musicianship held in one hand complete control of his orchestra, and in the other full understanding of this remarkable opus.

The work is all about air. Ruah is a Hebrew word meaning ‘breath.’ With flawless technique, Stern executed wide, leaping intervals, interspersed flutterings, and haunting, silver-threaded melodies. Did the work inspire the perfomer to such heights? Or did the performer bring physicality to mystic beauty? The answer is: both.” – Mount Vernon Gazette