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The word "petrichor" was coined in 1964 by a pair of biological researchers for an article in the journal Nature. It describes a universal but formerly nameless phenomenon: the delicious, earthy scent that arises after a rainstorm.
English composer Tarik O'Regan chose "petrichor" as the subtitle for a new choral-orchestral work commissioned by Utah Chamber Artists. "After Rain (Petrichor)" will premiere Monday at Libby Gardner Hall.
"O'Regan's new piece creates the aural experience of rain through music that shimmers and bursts with the texture of water," said UCA soprano Liz Hodson. "After Rain" is a setting of poems by English poet Edward Thomas. Hodson said the piece summons an emotional aura that re-creates the romance of walking in the rain.
"Not only are you having an intellectual study because of the poetry and a musical portrayal of the sound of rain, but, in invoking another sense the smell of rain it becomes an all-encompassing kind of experience," Hodson said. "His music takes the words of the poem, which are wonderful, and paints them so well. It's quite an exciting piece."
"After Rain," the evening's centerpiece, is a 12-minute work commissioned from O'Regan after the UCA was awarded grants from Brigham Young University's Barlow Endowment for Music Composition and the Dale Warland Singers Commission Award, which is presented by Chorus America and funded by the American Composers Forum.
O'Regan, 34, has twice won the British Composer Award and has garnered two Grammy nominations. His opera "Heart of Darkness," based on Joseph Conrad's novel, premiered in 2011 at the Royal Opera House in London's Covent Garden.
It was O'Regan who chose poetry of Thomas as the basis for the piece. Thomas is often lumped with Britain's "War Poets" because he died as a soldier in World War I at age 36.
But O'Regan feels Thomas' greater legacy is as a forward-thinking innovator who drew inspiration from a personal friendship with American poet Robert Frost.
"I've been a long-standing admirer of Edward Thomas," O'Regan said. "I've always found him to be tremendously modern. His connection to poetic modernism became stronger after his connection to Frost, and the work they came up with has had far-reaching effects."
O'Regan chose to set two poems that celebrate the bucolic loveliness of the English countryside Thomas loved. Both poems are flowing descriptions of rain, but hint at deeper meanings: "It Rains" and "After Rain."
The composer said the two lyrical poems might seem to lend themselves to slow, gentle music. His admiration for the luminous tone and technical accuracy of the Utah Chamber Artist choir led him to write music that challenges that expectation.
"I wanted to work in the vibrancy of sound of Utah Chamber Artists, and I knew my idea would fit their voices," he said. "So the piece is very fast-moving, and it shimmers very gently, particularly in the string writing. I wanted to give this shimmering bass layer, above which the choir could perform and sound in their rich and vibrant way. The orchestra and choir are very much equal partners. Each has quite a distinct voice which you hear independently, and these two voices come together at key moments in the work."
O'Regan said he became aware of the Utah performing group when he heard a recording of UCA performing his "Triptych," with music director Barlow Bradford conducting.
"I was very struck with Barlow's interpretation of the piece," O'Regan said. "It had a very vibrant, but warm feel.
He sent a note of praise to Bradford, and a correspondence ensued. The two musicians arranged to meet in New York City, where they worked out the details for O'Regan's commissioned piece.
The result of that effort has challenged and delighted UCA's members.
"You feel like you are actually vocalizing what he is trying to portray in his music," Hodson said. "We sing the effect of the raindrops, the smooth shining road and the light. It's really fun to do, as well as being challenging, interesting and fulfilling."
Other pieces on the program include "Night Pieces," a setting of William Wordsworth's poetry by composer J.A.C. Redford, formerly of Utah; "The West Wind," with music by Utahn Robert Cundick to words by John Masefield; and "When Disies Pied," by English composer John Rutter set to verses by Shakespeare. The evening concludes with an arrangement of "April in Paris" by Utah composer and conductor Bernell Hales.
Poetry in music
Barlow Bradford will conduct Utah Chamber Artists in an evening of poetry and music, including the world premiere of "After Rain" by prominent British composer Tarik O'Regan.
When • Monday, April 30, at 7:30 p.m.
Where • Libby Gardner Concert Hall, 1375 E. Presidents Circle, Salt Lake City.
Also • O'Regan will give a public lecture at 6 p.m.
Tickets • $17.50 for adults; $12 for students. The first 20 students with ID to purchase tickets at the Kingtix box office on the U. campus will receive a $5 discount. Service fees apply. Call 801-581-7100 or visit kingtix.com.