Piano-Heaven Award Winner:

Burnham Woods

William Watson

Burnham Woods Records

1999

 

 

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William Watson 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.

My favourite 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 couple."

I particularly 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.

The penultimate 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 conversation.

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 CD.

"Burnham Woods" 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."

Sadly, Burnham 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.

S.C.

 

 

 

 

 

Burnham Woods

Burnham Woods

William Watson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

William Watson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Nothingness

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