for chamber Orchestra

Composed:  2001
Commission:  The Cleveland Chamber Symphony
Premiere: The Cleveland Chamber Symphony, Jeffrey Pollock, conductor, September 24, 2001
Duration:  17 minutes    
Instrumentation:  2(2nd dbl picc. and al. fl.) 1 EH 11; 2110; 1 perc., strings (65142)


I.  Journey
II. Sand Mandala

Mandala was commissioned by the Cleveland Chamber Symphony.  It was written during a residency at the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire.  While I was there, Tibetan monks spent ten days in the adjoining town of Peterborough creating an intricate sand painting of a mandala.  After about a week, they destroyed the mandala in a ceremony of explanation, chanting and horn blowing.  At some point, I realized that the experience of the mandala was interwoven into the fabric of this piece.  The music is very much constructed in circles that spiral inward.  In addition, because some musicians are positioned in the auditorium, the music travels in circles around the performance space.

Along with the mandala experience, I was furthering my study of musical works that come from my own Dutch heritage. There is a Dutch song book of the Psalms in part-book format, Het Boek nevens de Gezangen bij de Hervormde Kerk van Nederland, from 1773, which has been handed down in my family.  I was struck by the melody of the 91st Psalm tune.  My grandfather, who was a Dutch Reformed minister, always read the 91st psalm before a journey, calling it the traveler’s psalm.  This work is a journey of sorts, traveling into the circles of a mandala, and into a mixing of cultures.

The trombone states the 91st psalm tune in its entirety at the beginning of the first movement, Journey.  Throughout the remainder of the movement the tune is always present in some form, sometimes in entire phrases, sometimes in fragments that float in a circle of colors and ornaments.  The movement ends with a sudden rhapsodic flourish in the flute answered quietly by the vibraphone and trumpet.  The second movement, Sand Mandala, begins without pause and continues the mandala-like circling.  The psalm tune is frequently present, although often in a fleeting and usually contemporary context.  The music circles forward through whispering, moments of agitation, long tones in the brass (overlaid with the stability of insistent rhythms and repetitions), and a section of hazy, clouded remembrances of the psalm tune (overlaid with a tolling that passes around the circle of the brass). 

In this movement, the musicians whisper various texts.  Most of the words will intentionally not be heard well enough to be understood by the audience.  However, it is hoped that the musicians interpret the quality and meaning of the words in the manner that they play the music, and that the whispers contribute in a mysterious way to the mandala.  The whispers are quotes from various newspapers, books and magazines and are about the pollution of the earth, the stresses of 21st century life, mystical visions of God, and the amazing wonder and capabilities of the human animal.  The quotes symbolize circling through (as the Random House Dictionary describes mandala) the effort to reunify the self.


American Composers' works shine in opening concert    "Brouwer, head of the composition department at the Cleveland Institute of Music, wrote "Mandala" last summer at the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire, where she studied her Dutch musical heritage and experienced the creation of a mandala sand- painted by Tibetan monks.  The solemn piece opens with a Dutch psalm tune intoned by a trombonist seated to the audience's right.  The 12-member ensemble onstage picks up fragments of the tune, and two French horns in the auditorium add to the sense of music spiraling through space like intricate patterns in the mandala. Chiming percussion and brass pedal points suggest ceremonial bells and chanting monks, while whispered words and clicking valves hint at subliminal messages.  The two-movement piece builds up with rapid squiggles, rising figures and signal calls... The performance left the enthralled listeners in a moment of stunned silence before the applause erupted... " - Wilma Salisbury, The Plain Dealer, September 26, 2001

"Brouwer's "Mandala," by contrast, was a model of accessibility...the music combines flowing circles of sound representing Tibetan mysticism with a Dutch Psalm tune from the composer's heritage. The players, placed in a circle around the room, filtered fragments of the familiar melody through muted tone colors. They clicked their keys, blew soundlessly through their instruments and produced open harmonies, ringing sonorities and whispered words that gave the work an ecclesiastical tone." - Wilma Salisbury, The Plain Dealer, November 19, 2003