A meditation on the beauty of nature and the fate of the planet, “This Rock We’re On: Imaginary Letters” is a multi-movement work by the acclaimed composer Mike Holober. Written for jazz orchestra, voice, cello, and percussion, it features art songs set for chamber ensemble that take the form of imaginary letters to or from selected “protagonists” -- naturalist authors, artists, and activists who dedicated their lives to appreciating and protecting the earth we inhabit. Each of the vocal works is followed by an instrumental jazz orchestra piece that reflects upon the text of the letter. Recorded and premiered by the GRAMMY® nominated Gotham Jazz Orchestra in June 2023, a double CD is scheduled for release in Jume 2024 (Palmetto Records).

Hailed by DownBeat Magazine as “one of the finest modern composer/arrangers of our time,” Mike Holober was awarded the 2022 American Academy of Arts and Letters Andrew Imbrie Award in Music, a rare honor for a jazz composer. His 2019 release “Mike Holober and the Gotham Jazz Orchestra: Hiding Out” was nominated for a GRAMMY® (“Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album), and garnered rave reviews in the jazz press. DownBeat Magazine proclaimed it a “long anticipated, epic work,” while others praised his “daring compositional voice,” “powerful orchestral magic,” and “profound artistic vision,” confirming his place in “the front rank of the most accomplished and inventive composers in jazz,” and “leading the charge to shift what a big band can sound like.”

The Gotham Jazz Orchestra brings together a star-studded roster of New York City musicians. Featured soloists include Chris Potter (tenor saxophone), Jason Rigby (tenor saxophone), Ben Kono (alto saxophone), Charles Pillow (alto saxophone), Marvin Stamm (trumpet), John Patitucci (bass), Jared Schonig (drums), Nir Felder (guitar), Jody Redhage Ferber (cello), James Shipp (percussion), and the up and coming Brazilian vocalist Jamile Staevie Ayres.

“This Rock We’re On: Imaginary Letters” was launched with generous support from the inaugural endowment of the Stuart Z. Katz Professorship in the Humanities and Arts at the City College of New York. It was written during artist residencies at the Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts, Ucross Foundation for the Arts, and MacDowell in 2019/2020. The PSC-CUNY Research Foundation provided funding for premiere performances at the Greenwich House Music School Theater, NYC, June 16 2023, and The Stissing Center, Pine Plains NY, June 17, 2023.

“This Rock We’re On: Imaginary Letters feels like vespers sung for the Anthropocene before night falls.””

— Terry Tempest Williams, environmental author and activist

The Protagonists

Ansel Adams, Inspiration Pint, Morning, Yosemite 1976.  (Photograph by Alan Ross).

Ansel Adams  
The American photographer Ansel Adams is best known for his iconic images of the American West, and a life-long advocate for environmental conservation.  For Adams, the wilderness was “a mystique: a valid, intangible, non-materialistic experience,” and his photographs have inspired my own explorations of the remote reaches of the Sierra Nevada range.  

The vocal work for this protagonist is titled “To Virginia,” and is set to a poem the photographer wrote for his wife Virginia.   The jazz orchestra piece for this protagonist is titled “Domes,” referring to the unique geology of Yosemite Valley, and the subject of some of Adams’ most memorable photographs.