During the last ten years of Allen’s life we had performed frequently together in poetry/music collaborations. Allen was a superb reader of his own work and I was often inspired to compose new piano music for these occasional collaborations. In the case of Hydrogen Jukebox, we developed an evening length “opera” which was designed by Jerome Sirlin and directed by Ann Carlson. We presented that work in over 30 cities as part of an international tour.
It had been our plan to make a new, major collaboration based on his epic poem Plutonian Ode (1978). Before he died in 1997, Allen had made several recordings for me of the poem in preparation for the new work. At that time I had in mind simply an extended piano work to accompany Allen in live performance. I put aside the project in 1997, feeling that I wouldn’t want to go ahead without Allen.
A few years past and the commission of a new symphony from Carnegie Hall and the Brucknerhaus Linz reawakened my interest in the project. I felt, then, that Plutonian Ode was unfinished business between Allen and myself and this would be the opportunity to complete it. By then, the piano music I had originally imagined had grown to a full orchestra and Allen’s resonant speaking voice to a lyric soprano.
The three movements of the symphony follow the three parts of the poem, and follow, also, the passage of the poem-the first movement a passionate outcry against nuclear contamination and pollution, the second a turn towards healing, and the final movement an epiphany arrived at through personal transformation.