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Rivers Empyrean

A new work for Fifth House Ensemble by Patrick O'Malley celebrating the Chicago river system, using data from Friends of the Chicago River


Fifth House Ensemble is commissioning Rivers Empyrean, a new work from ASCAP Morton Gould Award-winning composer Patrick O’Malley, to be premiered as part of a partnership between Fifth House and Friends of the Chicago River. It will also be performed on the ensemble’s Sonic Ecologies program as part of the ensemble’s 2018-2019 concert series, alongside works by John Luther Adams, Mason Bates, and Dan Visconti.

An alumnus of the ensemble’s annual summer festival, fresh inc, Patrick has since collaborated with Fifth House as an arranger and conductor for Journey LIVE, the first fully-interactive performance of Austin Wintory’s Grammy-nominated video game score.

Rivers Empyrean celebrates the Chicago river system, using ecological data, field recordings, and information on the river’s ecosystem (flora/fauna, wildlife habitat) provided by Friends of the Chicago River as source material. The work takes advantage of Fifth House Ensemble’s diverse palette of instrumental colors to preserve the image of the river and its wildlife through sound, building awareness for this vital local resource. Rivers Empyrean also fosters public engagement in Friends of the Chicago’s conservation work, serving as a new creative means of expressing and communicating river data and wildlife sounds. Patrick’s work is often influenced by nature and landscapes, making him a natural choice for this collaboration.

Rivers Empyrean will reach a target audience of 2,750 students and families through interactive performances in four public schools and a family performance at the Chicago River Museum in April/May 2019. These events build towards the Sonic Ecologies program, reaching an additional 200 concertgoers in May 2019.

The only organization solely dedicated to the Chicago River, Friends of the Chicago River’s mission is to improve and protect the Chicago River system for people, plants and animals through education and outreach programs that foster awareness, involvement, and a stewardship ethic; public policy and planning efforts that result in systemic river improvements; and on-the-ground projects that physically improve the river.

Fifth House partners with Friends to create a 45-minute, interactive assembly program for students grades K-8 merging live chamber music and river ecology learning goals. Students learn about the wildlife habitat of the Chicago River, how to assess the river’s health and changing landscape, and humans’ role in conservation. Students then explore wildlife sounds, and learn how these can be replicated and notated in music. Students hear Rivers Empyrean alongside other existing works, then participate in making their own sounds inspired by the river’s wildlife habitat.

The project culminates in a public performance at the Friends of the Chicago River’s Chicago River Museum, presented for families as a kick-off event to a volunteer clean-up day, with the goal of driving public participation in Friends’s ongoing conservation efforts. Fifth House performs the same interactive performance presented in partner schools, inviting children and families to participate in creating their own notated river sounds. This event represents only the second live performance event at the Museum during its 11-year history, and serves as a pilot for future programming in the space.

Project Media

Loneliness in a Beautiful Place for string orchestra
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Features: Patrick O'Malley

9-10 minutes. String orchestra (Vln I, Vln II, Vla, Vcl, DB). Performed by USC Thornton School of Music musicians, composed and conducted by Patrick O’Malley.

Beautiful places and spaces are inherently mysterious. The music in the piece is meant to depict not a specific landscape, but the experience of exploring a new place. Questions turn to discoveries as the soloists ruminate on what is before them. After a while the music embraces the search, scaling a mountain of notes before returning to meditation.

Island Sanctuary (Thin Places No. 3) for solo cello and electronics
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Features: Patrick O'Malley

Mike Kaufman, cello

Island Sanctuary is a work in eight continuous sections that give a musical “tour” of a fantastical island designed by Marie Lazar. The solo cello part not only represents the individual exploring the island, but also expresses several “water” motifs. The electronic tape acts as a canvas on which the player explores the island – nearly all of the soundscape is culled from sounds of real musical instruments that have been processed to some degree, in some cases beyond recognition.

Low Country Haze
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In Low Country Haze, Dan Visconti takes as his subject Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto’s 1540 expedition into Georgia and the Carolinas. Expedition logs describe the sounds of this new land in a way that can only be described as musical—the calls of strange birds; the chattering of insects and other animals scurrying in the vegetation. The piece begins with this seemingly random chatter, from which singing folk-like lines emerge.

Recorded live by Fifth House Ensemble, March 31, 2016, and to be performed as part of the proposed project

Start and End Dates



Chicago, Illinois

Project Created By

Chicago, Illinois
“You have to admire the sheer imaginative chutzpah these young performers bring to their envelope-pushing enterprise.” -John Von Rhein, Chicago Tribune Praised by the New York Times for its “conviction, authority, and finesse,” the Chicago-based Fifth House Ensemble harnesses the collaborative spirit of chamber music to reach beyond the traditionally-perceived limits of classical music. The ensemble’s artistic,…

In Collaboration With

Los Angeles, California


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