In the Balance
for orchestra

Stephen Andrew Taylor, 2000 (rev. 2008)

"Connection to the Past" by Hua Nian


Commissioned and premiered April 24, 2001, by the Central Illinois Youth Symphony, conducted by Steven Huang; featured at the 2003 IMEA festival by the Illinois All-State Honors Orchestra.

(10:44) University of Illinois Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Donald Schleicher, 2002.

Program Note

When the Central Illinois Youth Symphony commissioned me to compose In the Balance for Earth Day, they had in mind a striking idea: the orchestra members, each representing a different species of animal life, would gradually leave the stage until just a single bass player was left, portraying the mass extinction that humanity is inflicting upon our planet.

This is a powerful image, but I felt it might be too dark. The idea of Earth Day is to celebrate and cherish what we still have, not to mourn what we have lost. Still, as I read about the subject (I read lots of books to get ideas for pieces), I found myself returning to that image again and again. Scientists today think that advanced life in the Universe is a good deal less likely than people once thought. If we take into account all the things that Earth seems to require to support animal life--everything from the right kind of galaxy and Sun to water and air to volcanic activity and even the Moon--we could be an extremely rare phenomenon in the Universe.

The thought of all of us disappearing is scary, but it is a very real possibility. So about halfway through the piece the trombones throw out shattering chords, accompanied by the heartbeat of the bass drum--a sort of "extinction event." The other instruments return, playing their different themes from earlier in the piece, but gradually they falter and die away, leaving only the solo bass. After a pause the opening music returns, fragile and lonely.

I think this is what I was trying to get across when I wrote the piece: we live on a delicate and fragile Earth which we must protect. There’s only one other possibility. This choice is reflected in the title, an homage to Al Gore’s book Earth in the Balance.

Last updated September 14, 2015 by Stephen Andrew Taylor, [email protected]