“Ever since the first time I heard Kenneth Frazelle’s The Swans of Pungo Lake, I’ve always thought it was a cool piece!” On the eve of the Society of Musical Arts’ (Maplewood, NJ) March 6 concert, music director Stephen Culbertson shares some insight into programming Frazelle’s six-minute work.
The Swans of Pungo Lake was commissioned by the North Carolina Symphony, and premiered in 2006 in celebration of the orchestra’s 75th anniversary. It was written as part of the ensemble’s “Postcards of North Carolina” project which commissioned new works depicting natural sites around the state. Frazelle chose to depict Pungo Lake in the Pocosin Lakes Wildlife Refuge, a desolate location near the coast (North Carolina’s tidewater wetlands), where tens of thousands of tundra swans and snow geese spend the winter. The Swans of Pungo Lake explores the sweeping helix patterns the birds form as they gather in and above a large field just before sunset, their white bodies electrified by the brilliant late-day light. The thunderous beating of thousands of wings and the loud drone of the birds’ honking are also portrayed.
Culbertson continues. “The theme for our concert is ‘water music’, and The Swans of Pungo Lake was a natural fit…A few years ago, I was traveling through North Carolina, and I witnessed a similar scene to the one that Frazelle set in his score. It was a lake where there were hundreds of whistling swans cackling away and making a racket. After seeing that, I completely understood the inspiration behind the work. It’s a wonderful piece; and each orchestral section is integral – including the percussion section – to the whole soundscape!”
Footnote: In 2006, when Frazelle wrote The Swans of Pungo Lake, the U.S. Navy had publicly discussed plans to construct and operate an outlying landing field for fighter jets near the lake. However, due to grass-roots efforts and local citizen protests, the U.S. Navy withdrew its plans and the wetlands continue to flourish.