‘Sea Surface Full of Clouds’

‘Sea Surface Full of Clouds’

WMPA, NOVA Community Chorus to debut work of local composer.

Many of us vividly remember the scene in the movie “Amadeus,” where Mozart is hearing the music in his head and furiously scribbling, frantically trying to get his inspiration on paper. Not just a single line of music, but an entire symphony. While Mozart was in a different realm, the ability to create a piece of living, breathing music is something of great beauty.

At a recent rehearsal of the Washington Metropolitan Philharmonic, composer Lawrence Edward Ries observed the orchestra as it performed his cantata “Sea Surface Full of Clouds.” Images of what brought him and his music to this point swirled in the air as Ries witnessed the first moments of his music coming to life.

“My musical goal in ‘Sea Surface’ is to capture and convey the marvelous verbal, impressionistic and coloristic character of the poem,” Ries said of the Wallace Stevens work of the same name. “I am one of those composers who see and hear colors in music. There is so much color in Stevens’ poem that it inspired me to write music that attempts to match the colors and images in the poem. The poem is also about light and radiance, some of which I try to capture with the orchestration and some of which I try to capture in the vocal parts.”

Ries originally wrote “Sea Surface” in 1986 as a two-piano version, but that changed as the piece evolved.

“I had an orchestration in mind when I wrote it,” Ries said. “I wrote all the music sequentially from part 1 to part 5. At the time, I was balancing music composition with being a stay-at-home father caring for our two young children and the piece rested for several decades. But when I retired from my career in the federal government in 2009, I decided to capture the ‘Sea Surface’ handwritten score on the computer, using a computer music notation program.”

The result of this more than 20-year journey will culminate on Sunday, March 30, when the world premiere of “Sea Surface Full of Clouds” will be performed by the Washington Metropolitan Philharmonic along with the NOVA Community Chorus. Joining them will be guest soloists soprano Tia Wortham, mezzo-soprano Anamer Castrello, tenor Duane A. Moody and baritone Jason Buckwalter.

The Washington Metropolitan Philharmonic and NOVA Community Chorus will perform “Sea Surface Full of Clouds” March 30 at 3 p.m. at T.C. Williams High School, 3330 King St. The concert will also include Rodrigo’s “Concerto de Aranjuez” with harpist Heidi Sturniolo and will conclude with Debussy’s “La Mer.”

Tickets are $20, 18 and younger attend for free. Tickets may be purchased in advance at wmpamusic.org, or at the door.


Composer Lawrence Edward Ries follows the musical score as the Washington Metropolitan Philharmonic rehearses “Sea Surface Full of Clouds.” The original composition by Ries will be performed March 30 at T.C. Williams High School.


Members of the NOVA Community Chorus join musicians from the Washington Metropolitan Philharmonic for a rehearsal at the George Washington Masonic Memorial.


Harpist Heidi Sturniolo will join the Washington Metropolitan Philharmonic in concert March 30 at T.C. Williams High School.