The Five Sacred Trees
John Williams composed The Five Sacred Trees for Judith LeClair, the principal bassoonist of the New York Philharmonic in 1995, to honor the orchestra's 150th anniversary. The first performance was given by LeClair and the New York Philharmonic under Kurt Masur on April 12 of that year. The orchestra consists of three flutes and piccolo, two oboes and English horn, two clarinets and bass clarinet, two bassoons and contrabassoon, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones and tuba, timpani, harp, piano, celesta, and strings. Performance time is approximately 26 minutes. Inspiration for the work also comes from the writings of British poet and novelist Robert Graves.
The work is composed of five movements, each representing a tree from ancient Celtic mythology.
The second movement is Tortan, the tree associated with magic, especially witchcraft. This movement features both the bassoon and the violin.
The fourth movement represents Craeb Uisnig, the ash. The ash was typically associated with strife. It is the shortest and least melodic movement.
The last movement is Dathi, named after tree that was the muse. The movement is slow and melancholy, featuring the flute as well as the bassoon. There is no gap between movements four and five.
Reviewing a recording of the work, Lawrence Johnson of the Chicago Tribune praised the piece, remarking, "In a broad five-movement canvas, Williams explores a variety of lightly contrasted, mostly ruminative moods, and there is a quiet mystery and spacious quality to this music that compels attention." Andrew Achenbach of Gramophone similarly observed, "Williams has penned a highly imaginative, impeccably crafted score which will surely give great pleasure to many."
The Five Sacred Trees was recorded in 1997 with Williams leading LeClair and the London Symphony Orchestra. This recording was published by Sony Classical Records, and also featured Toru Takemitsu's Tree Line, Tobias Picker's Old and Lost Rivers, and Alan Hovhaness's Symphony No. 2 Mysterious Mountain.
- Kozinn, Allan (February 2, 1994). "Masur Stays on Course He Set for Philharmonic". The New York Times. Retrieved June 25, 2015.
- Canarina, John (2010). The New York Philharmonic: From Bernstein to Maazel. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 253. ISBN 9781574671889.
- Johnson, Lawrence (September 7, 1997). "Williams: The Five Sacred Trees". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved June 23, 2015.
- Achenbach, Andrew (July 1997). "The Five Sacred Trees". Gramophone. Retrieved June 23, 2015.