In recent years, I’ve been a well-treated vagabond, and relished every minute of it. Time spent—in places like Berlin, a picture-perfect fishing village on the French Mediterranean Coast; London and the Eastern Shores of Britain; Los Angeles and a small town in upstate New York overlooking a waterfall—has drawn forth in me the kinds of realizations that extended travel often does, namely: a) people and places are all different, and b) people and places are all the same. I am also distinctly aware of what this phase in life in which I find myself bears: a palpable sense of rootless-ness, which contradicts and battles the opposite inclination: a desire to sink roots.
The kinds of journeys Wanderlust (a wonderful concept-word generally known as “love of travel”) concerns itself with occur not just geographically, but through time. Each movement reflects a broad span. Prevailing Winds evokes my thoughts on a more distant past: the cool expansive windy desert of Northern Nevada (my home until age 18) drenched in sun and sagebrush, my ever-so-rooted family, my innocence in the wide world. Distant memories and impressions are fragmented and piled up upon themselves and continue to swirl around the orchestra in various guises, and often reappear. In essence, I sought to relay many thoughts, memories, visions and emotions (all distant, many vague) into an single abstract object, and what resulted is a kind of musical kaleidoscope: ever changing and circling, but only around itself.
In contrast, Seagulls on High reflects my thoughts on a specific time and place, one much closer the to the present. The first version of this music had a quick incubation in Aldeburgh, the coastal town in Suffolk, England where Benjamin Britten made his home. The title refers most directly to the enormous resident birds that kept me company with a truly glorious cacophony in the early morning hours of the summer sunrise outside my cottage on Aldeburgh High Street. The music, however, makes it roots known elsewhere. In the cold beaches and dark, roiling waves; the reeds and lowlands and coastal plains under grey, unsettled skies I came to understand Britten’s special, conflicted penchant for melancholy, and many the saddest tunes from Peter Grimes and the Serenade rolled through my head as I wrote in a small room in the Snape Maltings, the concert hall he built. Seagulls on High was never intended as direct homage or a kind of compositional tourism, but in the end, a nod to a hero while staying in his place of choice was inevitable.
Bilbao is somehow the simplest and most obtuse movement, both referentially and musically. The word alone conjures for so many Frank Gehry’s spectacular, terribly intricate, and downright funky designs for the Guggenhiem Museum he built in the 1990s, and the urban renewal brought about by its auspicious opening in this downtrodden port city in Northern Spain. Since I have never been to Bilbao, this music is somehow about the future, of seeing this building that has captured my imagination since I was 15 years old, of visiting a place that was saved by art. But, in concerning the prospect of a return to the home of my Basque ancestry, this music is also somehow about the notion of a past so deep, it may be lost already. That both the future and the distant, ancestral past have an existence based only in reflection, I knew the piece would end with a question mark. Perhaps appropriately, the path the music took in getting there is still a genuine mystery to me.
Wanderlust is dedicated to Sonya and Oliver Knussen in admiration and friendship, and to Syd Hodkinson in gratitude.
— Sean Shepherd
This program note may be reproduced free of charge in concert programs with a credit to the composer.
"Harmonically [Wanderlust] is often harsh and dissonant, but Shepherd's music shows real compositional skill with orchestral tone colors, creating evocative, if episodic, portraits of the landscapes."
— David Fleshler, Miami Herald
"Shepherd uses a profuse orchestral palette well."
— Richard Morrison, The Times (UK)
"[Wanderlust] brought the most freshness and inhibition of the program."
— Sebastian Spreng, El Nuevo Herald