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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Albuquerque Symphony Performs Warner Hutchison’s ‘The Desert Shall Bloom as the Rose’

By Brian Nixon
Special to ASSIST News Service

ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS) -- American composer, Warner Hutchison, is a New Mexico treasure. As former Department Chair at New Mexico State University, Hutchison has composed over 300 works of highly original music. Inspired by Romantic, 12-tone, choral, and Avant-garde musical movements, Hutchison’s compositions have the ability to move the listener with deep emotions, or cause one to sit and ponder highly cerebral works.

Dr. Warner Hutchison in the auditorium
of Popejoy Hall

With a career spanning 55 years, several CD releases, and many performances throughout the world, Hutchison’s music is a unique voice in the Parthenon of great American composers, particularly in the desert southwest.

When Albuquerque Youth Symphony’s director and conductor, Gabriel Gordon, choose the repertoire for the fifty-ninth season, he spared no expense in selecting composers of the finest caliber: Shubert, Ibert, Mendelssohn, Saint-Saens, Moncayo, and Borodin among them. In the midst of this stellar line-up was Hutchison’s, The Desert Shall Bloom as the Rose.

Flautist, Sylvie Tran

After wonderful performances of the aforementioned pieces, with a titillating allegro schezando by flautist, Sylvie Tran, on the Concerto for Flute and Orchestra, Gabriel Gordon introduced the Hutchison piece by reading notes from the composer.

“The area surrounding Las Cruces, New Mexico features high desert and mountains. Desert plants abound, including many varieties of cacti, and magnificent agave plants. In the spring, colorful blossoms appear, and the desert comes alive with all sorts of small creatures…A sudden summer shower swells small gullies and large arroyos as water rushes downward across the roads and dry land. Almost as suddenly the rain stops; the sun reappears with dazzling brilliance… Another land, similar to that described above, but far from New Mexico, was given a promise thousands of years ago: ‘And the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose.’ (Isaiah 35:1)”

With this, the music began, taking listeners on a journey through the desert, with sweeping melodies, beautiful orchestration, and meditative motifs.

Dr. Hutchison shaking hands with conductor, Gabriel Gordon

At the end of the piece, Gordon had the musicians take a dramatic pause, leaving the audience in deep thought over the sheer beauty of the music. Silence ruled the room, not a sound heard. When the musicians lowered their instruments, the audience erupted in applause. Gabriel Gordon reached down to grab the hand of Hutchison who was in the front row of Popejoy Hall. “Bravos” were called. The composer had his way. The brilliance of the piece—an homage to the New Mexico desert with an echo towards the Biblical land of Israel—moved many to profound reflection.

As a guest of the composer, I watched as people approached Warner after the concert, thanking him for the composition. Hutchison, with his white goatee and suit to match, smiled, humbly receiving the accolades.

I’ve had the privilege to discuss this piece—and many compositions—with Dr. Hutchison through our various chats concerning his music and life. The Desert Shall Bloom as the Rose was written in 1988, a commission by Dr. Marianna Gabbi, Music Director of the Las Cruces Symphony State University. The work was written for the centennial celebration of New Mexico State University. According to Hutchison, the composition is “descriptive of Las Cruces and its high desert and mountains.”

Dr. Warner Hutchison outside of
Popejoy Hall

In a summary of the composition, Dr. Hutchison wrote, “The Desert Shall Bloom as the Rose…represents a personal triumph for me. It has the lush sonorities and soaring melodies I find most satisfying, although I certainly would not commit to writing all my works in this idiom.”

The Biblical allusion found within the piece is taken from the book of Isaiah, chapter 35. Isaiah 35 is a sharp difference from that of chapter 34. In chapter 34 a somber and dark picture is painted, a time of judgment and confusion. Then, in chapter 35, joy, rejoicing, and hope enter the text. Isaiah 35 discusses a time of singing, blossoming deserts, and beauty.

Score for The Desert Shall
Bloom as the Rose

Chapter 35 begins the second sermon delivered by Isaiah on the Hebrew people’s return to Zion. According to Biblical scholar, Harold Lindsell, in chapter 35, “Isaiah foresaw a future age in which God would manifest himself through sings and wonders. The blind would see, the lame leap, and the dumb talk. Streams would flow in the desert where they were least expected…The redeemed of God who had been ransomed would be there. They would come to Zion with joy and gladness and their songs would resound to the Redeemer’s praise.”

It’s a fitting text, really, that Dr. Hutchison chose for this marvelous piece. For in the end, this is exactly what it does: resound with a meditative and stunning praise.

To watch Dr. Hutchison discuss another of his works, Apocalypse V, click here: 

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This story is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of the ASSIST News Service or ASSIST Ministries.
Brian Nixon is a writer, musician, minister, and family man. You may contact him at

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