The Ninth Wave
by Nicholas DiBerardino '11 (premiere performance conducted by the composer)
Thursday, May 6, 2010 - Richardson Auditorium in Alexander Hall - Princeton University
About the Piece
“The ninth wave” was originally a sailor’s term used to describe a single wave larger than all the others. They’re the stuff of legend—colossal, unpredictable, and indomitable, waves so big they look like massive walls of water rearing up behind deep holes in the sea. Few who have seen them have ever survived, and while a recent satellite study confirmed their existence, their cause remains utterly mysterious.
Russian painter Ivan Aivazovsky was impressed enough by sailors’ tales that he titled his 1850 masterpiece “The Ninth Wave.” It depicts a tiny group of people clinging to the mast of their wrecked ship, still stranded in the middle of a merciless sea. Completely indifferent to their struggle, a beautiful sunrise dominates the work, shining through the chaos and casting the brutal waves in a strangely positive light. The subject matter here is tragic—the sailors may very well face death—and yet the sunrise spells hope, the promise of another day to come. As viewers, we’re forced to confront this duality, somehow trying to reconcile the sailors’ plight with the overwhelming beauty of the seascape around them.
Aivazovsky’s work has been called “an ode to human daring in the face of the elements,” and that’s how I like to think of my piece, too. I used the painting as a loose source of narrative inspiration for this music—see if you can hear the storm gather at sea, the sailors nearly beating the elements, and the panic of their eventual shipwreck. As they’re left adrift, battered and totally alone, the piece sways with slow, ambiguous harmonies, leaving us to wonder what ultimately becomes of these men. Do they emerge alive, or does the sunrise offer nothing more than bitterly false hope? As you listen, I hope you’ll try to answer that question for yourself, thinking all the while about the awesome power of nature in all its violence and beauty.
About the Composer
Nick, who hails from Westport, CT, is a music major and member of the class of 2011. He has studied piano, voice, and saxophone, and he plans to pursue a graduate degree in music composition. Despite his lifelong passion for writing music, which started the moment he first got his hands on a piano, his formal studies didn’t begin until his time at Princeton. Since then, Nick has studied composition not only at Princeton, but also in Paris, through the European American Musical Alliance, and in New York, through the New York Youth Symphony. This summer, he will be continuing his studies at the Brevard Institute in Brevard, NC.
Nick is a co-founder of the Undergraduate Composers Collective at Princeton University and currently serves as its president. Many of his recent pieces have premiered at Composers Collective concerts with ensembles ranging from a jazz combo to a flute trio to a string sextet. “The Ninth Wave” is his first large ensemble piece to premiere on campus, but his junior project, a work for choir, harp, and percussion based on Walt Whitman’s A child said, What is the Grass? will be performed next fall.
Nick’s recent compositional successes include receiving “Emerging Artist” recognition from the New York Art Ensemble in 2009 and 2010, for his “Harmonia” and “Sparkplug,” respectively. He also received an Honorable Mention in the Eastern Division of the 2008 Music Teachers National Association competition for his “Sextet for Strings,” placed first in the New England Region in the 2008 National Federation of Music Clubs competition for his “Poem for Orchestra,” and was a finalist in the Morton Gould Young Composers Awards for his “Orpheus” in 2005. Nick was also proud to have several other pieces win first place prizes for the state of Connecticut in competitions run by the National Federation of Music Clubs and the Music Teachers National Association in 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007.