variations for orchestra (1989)
- Premiere: 24 October 1989 / Great Hall, Cooper Union, New York City / The Brooklyn Philharmonic / Lukas Foss
- Instrumentation: 2(II=picc).2(II=corA).2.2-22.214.171.124-timp.perc(1)-synth-str
- Duration: 8'30"
Heliotrope was first performed on 24 October 1989 by the Brooklyn Philharmonic under the direction of Music Director Lukas Foss in the Great Hall of the Cooper Union in New York City. It is dedicated to Lukas Foss. The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) commissioned Heliotrope in celebration of the 75th Anniversary of the Society.
During the 1980s I underwent a lengthy period of psychoanalysis. During this time, I had a vivid dream that I was at a wild, chronologically-crazy cocktail party, engaged in breezy shop talk with several generations of composers, some quick, some not. Coming to terms with my feelings (pro and con) about each, and the varying level of intimidation that I felt about approaching each, was the work of many months.
Accordingly, the title refers to the heliotropic nature of plants — the way they turn toward the sunlight. As a young composer, I joyously turned in this piece toward some of the many sources of creative light that lit up the composing world for a young man on the make in 1989 Manhattan, and celebrated them in turn by crafting variations that evoked their styles, methods, or the way they orchestrated. The theme itself is redolent of Scott Joplin, the composer whose piano music first inspired me to become a composer.
All that can be done after hearing a piece like this [Heliotrope, performed by the Brooklyn Philharmonic conducted by Lukas Foss], one that leaves mostly speechless, gaping mouths, is to directly address the composer immediately afterward and ask him: "Day-ron, Hey Mon! Da-ron Da Doo Ron Ron, Wow! Da-ron you be quite a guy — one bon mec. But I and I think maybe you be playin' with the noshun of "Evil" same way dem guys like Bowedwedard be doin' — maybe, huh? Dem playful diversions, grand melange of notes, appropri-aateley POSTmodern pastiche... uncountable references, only indirectly allegorical meaning — yes, mon?
You fe be doing dat ting? Goofin' on every-buddy — 'Good and Evil' — good and Bad! get down Mon! Dizzy! Vertigeux! Daron: 'Yeah, sure, of course, whatever you want it to be, that be your problem, so to speak.' 'Aie ha ha ha ha oh ho ho hhoh! Irie 'ights!' 'Day-ron: '...well, I didn't really mean anything by it, just my own personal truth, I guess.' 'Fie upon ye, bumba-clot! Carry go-bring-come! Cause ya do simulate and dissimulate apropos jes like audio trickster an get the corporate tuxedo money an goof on their gullibility. Yes mon? Put it on! Put em on. Quick shuffle de masques, yes mon?'
And so it went. For most of us who never had a chance or the need or the desire to listen to it, or for those gringos who long ago abandoned the cerebral neurotic heritage of European white male music in favor of what seems like more sensuous, primal rhythmic bottom pulse in the name of more soul, I and I here to tell you: don't give up yet, not completely quite yet. For if there is one white dude who can finally break on through to the other side, even while using the last of the dry, decadent historical forms, and maybe even taking the best of the classical museum with him right on out the window like a Zen thief — peut-etre c'est Day-ron. Et pourquoi? A last hope for the internal subversion to combat the internal domination of the aural modes ideologically conditioned — compulsive performativity finally run righteously amok!
This be the kind of cool and ugly stuff that you can even not like and still say simply: awesome. Is there life after learning the ropes, learning the notes? After imprinting the whole program and its techniques? Maybe. The public is awaiting Day-ron's answer. No less a victim of compulsive performativity fostered by the market system than anyone else. No less overtones of someting once called "class collaboration." Still maybe this white dude carry dem seed of hope to shatter da forms that support this cultural shackling of so many ears.
Go catch the mon next time he pass thru town. Day-ron Hag-on. Right on.
— Ras Arthur, Le Journal des Intellectuels Carribbean, 12/8/89
Hagen's Heliotrope, premiered just four months ago by the Brooklyn Philharmonic [performed tonight by the Oakland-East Bay Symphony conducted by Michael Morgan] provides further evidence of his distinctive American voice, the wide-open intervals of the opening section evoking Aaron Copland's America of dreams and stern pioneer morality. But Hagen's vision is more complex than that. Before it's through, Heliotrope has engorged itself with the sounds of a smoky jazz club, complete with walking bass, and the cool sophistication of contemporary minimalism with repeated figures in the xylophone.
— David Gere, The Oakland Tribune, 3/3/90
Heliotrope is a brightly-colored spunky piece built largely out of one little jazz snatch, taking it through several adventures, clearly Copland to start, boldly Bernstein later on, and ending on a nice tag. It's a natural for a ballet, and fun.
— Robert Commanday, The San Francisco Chronicle, 3/3/90
The influence of Leonard Bernstein's theater style could be heard in the brief motto that Hagen used as the basis of his Heliotrope [performed by the Brooklyn Philharmonic conducted by Lukas Foss], a set of variations in an array of orchestral, theater and jazz styles that showed how far a composer can run with a simple theme, given the right combination of imagination and skill.
— Allan Kozinn, The New York Times, 10/29/89