North Woods (2014)
For vocal ensemble (SSAA)
Commissioned by the Lorelei Ensemble with support from a 2014 NewMusicUSA Project Grant
"Exquisite." — The New York Times
"An American response to Sibelius’s Tapiola, the music conjuring twinkling stars, howling winds, and the unyielding dark green of fir trees." — The Boston Globe
"North Woods ... made use of the most immediate sensation of the choir’s phenomenal purity: clean clarity as cold as ice." — NewMusicBox
" ... Wild and distant, austere and stalwart ... Ordway’s writing was both confident and delicate, and the women of Lorelei flourished in the evocative soundscapes and velvet harmonies." — Boston Classical Review
"North Woods is haunting and really lovely." — Boston Musical Intelligencer
I created the concept for North Woods in 2013 when I was living near the coast in southern Maine. While ostensibly a response to the vast, uninhabited wilderness at the northern extremity of the state, the piece is most directly connected to the spiritual and aesthetic lives of a more abstract “North.”
The text is adapted from two works by the Roman historian Tacitus. In Germania and Agricola (both ca. 98 A.D.), the author describes territories to the north of the Roman Empire. He was ignorant in two important ways, though: he had never personally traveled to either Britain or the German lands, and he didn’t understand how the planet was shaped or how it related to the sun. Because of this, his writings about the North are infused with an almost mystical reverence that still feels intuitively correct. Vast woods and waters shrouded in endless twilight acquire a moral significance that grows from the landscape itself: because they are frozen and dark, they are unwelcoming to humanity, and this makes them pure. This, to me, is the idea of the North, and it resounds everywhere in the way that people discuss the far northern peripheries of the places they live and know.
The music is in four parts: there are three representations of the idea of the North, followed by a short appendix wherein each text is treated again in a more sanguine, earthbound, and articulate style.