is an American composer from San Francisco who burst
onto the music scene with the acclaimed Fields in
1996. Three years later came Burnham Woods. The
development of the musician is striking; the end
product is a CD which ranks as amongst the very
finest in my collection.
The CD opens
with "Peyote Mandolins", and is a vivacious number
which gets the music off to a cracking start. Played
in G flat, William explains that improvising in this
key signature opened up a new tonal world for him.
"It's so rich and mellow," he says. The track is
joyful, and indeed the composer says that, to this
day, playing the piece puts a smile on his face.
Played at a
slower tempo is "Renoir: Boating Party", a piece
inspired by the famous artist's "The Luncheon of the
Boating Party". Clearly meaningful to William, he
explains how he is drawn to the gentle and happy
life captured in this great work of art- and this is
reflected in the composition of his music. He sees
the painting as a form of meditation to assist in
troubled times and says, "When I first sat before
this painting in Washington DC, I felt such
transcendence, I cried."
The third track
in this excellent CD appears to be a technically
challenging piece to play. Dramatic music to capture
a significant moment in history- in 1607, unable to
tolerate subjugation to the English crown, more than
ninety Celtic chieftains fled from Ulster to
permanent exile- this "Flight of the Earls" marked
the end of ancient Celtic Ulster. Very melodic with
sections filled with a plethora of notes, reflecting
perhaps the choas of the ensuing situation.
piece is the title track, "Burnham Woods". A more
delightful melody one would be hard-pressed to find.
This piece is also composed in G flat. William sees
it as his "study of a low voice melody line in a
rural folk sound". Burnham Woods provide a tranquil
backdrop for gentle walks, etc. However, the music
is a tribute to his Grandmother, whom the woods are
named after. She was born in 1899 and is clearly
held in high-esteem by her grandson.
As the title
might suggest, "Garden of Zen" is a reflective
number, ideal for meditation. Soothing, gentle and
very beautiful to the ear, the music guides the
listener into a state of total relaxation.
Continuing in a similar vein is "Godchild's
Lullaby", dedicated to the composer's godson who
resides on the opposite side of the country.
Soporific, and a pleasure to hear.
Track seven has
an intriguing background. "Tikkun Olam" is a joyful
piece, and maintains the melodic nature of the
album. William explains its history: "Tikkun Olam is
an ecstasy-driven composition inspired by the Jewish
mystical tradition, Kabbalah, which describes an
imperfect world awaiting our right direction. Tikkum
alam means reparation for the world. Using sexual
imagery, Kabbalists teach that the right action
prompts the union of the feminine (Shekhinah) and
masculine (Tif'eret) aspects of God, the divine
love the warmth of "Nothingness" which, despite its
unexceptional title is in fact, one of the most
gorgeous compositions one could wish to hear. Far
from having a negative connotation, the title
actually refers to a state of acceptance, where the
individual is comfortable with contemplating the end
of life and the possibility of being without form.
Another G flat
piece arrives in the form of "Anicca", the ninth
track of the CD. William sees this piece as a study
of a sensually developed melody in a contemplative,
hopeful composition. In the notes provided by
William, he explains the thinking behind this piece:
"Anicca is the Buddhist doctrine of impermanence.
For a few days when I was working on the pieces for
this collection, I had some poignant feelings about
times past. My head knows that nothing stays the
same, but my heart is learning what that feels like.
I'm learning too that I can accept inevitable change
as part of a treasured life. When I first recorded "Anicca"
in the studio, the chorus section sounded morose. So
that night, I went home and tried a new approach
which flowed with a greater acceptance of things.
Although I had been working on this piece for weeks,
I finished a new ‘chorus section’ overnight, which
felt full of life and gratitude."
"From This Day"
is a catchy piece celebrating the togetherness of
two people who want to spend the rest of their lives
together. It is full of hope, and has a positive
tone about it.
track is called "Beside You". Quite slow in tempo,
this has a romantic feel to it. A simple melody is
used to capture the ease at which two people who are
truly made for each other can be in each other's
company and at ease without the need for
This great CD
closes with the contemplative "Remembering". Dreamy
and relaxing- this is a piece to allow oneself to
drift away. A soothing and perfect way to close this
has drawn much acclaim. The CD reached the last four
in the 1999 New Age Voice "Best Acoustic
Instrumental" category. The CD also reached the
final of the Crossroads Music Magazine awards in
2000, and was listed as one of the Top 30 CDs in
Wind and Wire Magazine for 2000. William Watson has
been referred to as "the heir to George Winston" and
his music has been described as "stunningly
beautiful [and] emotionally deep."
The CD was
recorded in San Francisco at the ‘Different for
Playing’ studios, where many of the early Windham
Hill recordings were made. William used a Yamaha C7
Conservatory Grand Piano, an instrument with which
he clearly felt at home. "it's strong and
responsive, like a well-manufactured and
well-designed sports car. The sound excites me in
the same way. The C7 at the studio feels so alive.
Even before I played it, I felt it was a very
special piano. Their tone starts at a brighter point
and they have a great treble, which is a ringing
sound that's delicious without being garish. Plus,
they have a rich middle and a resounding bass."
Woods seems to have fallen out-of-print. Check out
Amazon, where copies occasionally surface, and
notice the positive reviews whilst you are there.
This is an excellent CD, and well worth tracking
down. I give it my highest recommendation.