"Unseen Rain" was commissioned by the Chase Foundation in celebration of the 75th Anniversary of the Longy School of Music (Cambridge, Massachusetts). Even before choosing the texts, I decided to compose a work for many more singers than instrumentalists, which would include as many members of the Longy community as possible. I wanted the vocalists to dominate the attention of the listeners and to be the dramatic focus of the work.
The Chase Foundation also specified that the texts were to be "in celebration of music" and must not be too somber or grim in general tone. Early in my search, it became clear that the twentieth century would probably not yield poetic texts of this nature. I wanted to find epigrammatic, haiku-like texts which were filled wth simple words and direct images. Fortunately, I found some beautiful translations of Rumi's quatrains (short poems of four lines each) and after reading at least 500 of them, I set about the task of creating a celebratory musical drama from the general collection. The work fell into three parts: in the first, "The Prophet's Quatrains," the countertenor is a prophet beseeching the community (the chorus) to remain awake throughout the night in order to fully experience the joys of music; in the second, "The Lovers' Quatrains," the soprano and tenor are lovers rejoicing in the similarities between love and music; and in the third, "A Communal Affirmation," the prophet and the lovers join the chorus to proclaim the spiritual power of music ("Listen to the unstruck sounds, and what sifts through that music..."). The title of the work is an image taken from one of Rumi's quatrains - it relates to the end of the piece, when what has been hidden (unseen/unheard) finally becomes apparent. The Persian word for "Unseen Rain" also refers to "grace".
Reviews"A fascinating album consisting of new music steeped in the technique and aesthetics of music 600 years old." - The Atlantic Monthly