Program Note: On Shooting Stars

On Shooting Stars - Homage to Victor Jara <1981>

i. La Partida ["The Departure"]
ii El nino yuntero ["The Child of the Earth"]
iii. El alma llena de banderas ["Our Hearts Are Full of Banners']

This work was the last I composed in Australia before my initial departure for the USA in late 1981. It was written as a tribute to the Chilean folksinger-poet Victor Jara [1932-1973], who was the embodiment of the ideals and aspirations of a rejuvenated Chile during the left-leaning government of President Salvador Allende. When Allende's government was toppled by a military coup in September 1973, Victor Jara was rounded up and incarcerated with thousands of others in the soccer stadium in Chile. There he sustained the spirits of his fellow prisoners who witnessed his brutal death. Today, the stadium stands as his memorial, bearing his name Estadio Victor Jara.

Each of the three movements is based on music by Victor Jara. The first movement is fundamentally a transcription of a short piece Jara wrote for traditional Andean instruments. The second movement moves gradually towards my own sound-world, with echoes of Jara's touching lullaby cradled by three instrumental duos. The third movement portrays the chaos and panic of the time of the coup itself. Hacking away at the fabric of democracy, the disembodied voice of Victor Jara is heard as a jammed radio signal, against a swell of protesting voices, yielding to the final screams of his torture and execution.

On Shooting Stars was commissioned as a kind of "farewell" gesture by the Seymour Group, the contemporary music performance group which I had founded at Sydney University in 1976. It was premiered shortly after my departure from Sydney, Stuart Challender conducting the six core members of the ensemble in the Sydney Opera House Recording Hall in October 1981. Several months later, in February 1982, I directed the American premier at Yale University at the very time of the opening of Costa Gravas's film Missing. The threatening response of the Chilean Embassy in Washington DC spurred me to return to Victor Jara's music in the Chilean movement of my first orchestral piece, Pacifica, in 1986,

Since its premier almost 20 years ago now, On Shooting Stars has been performed around 200 times, often at Amnesty International events intended to focus attention on human rights in Chile during the military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. With the restoration of democracy in Chile, it was performed at the Presidential Inaugural in March 1990. With the events of the past few years, first in London, then the return of General Pinochet to Chile, possibly to stand trial, there has been renewed interest in the work and in the music and life mission of Victor Jara - his legacy of the cancion nuevo or "new song" movement of the youth of Chile.

Copyright Vincent Plush, Brisbane, 2003