RIVER OF DOUBT
RIVER OF DOUBT
I. River of Doubt
II. Cloud Forest
Premiering February 10th, 12th, and 13th 2015
Commissioned by the Atlantic Classical Orchestra and Rappaport Foundation for the 25th Anniversery Season
The desire to explore is a near universal trait whether it comes in the form of music, art, or good old-fashioned adventure. On the ACO’s 25th anniversary season the RIVER OF DOUBT commemorates yet another landmark, the 100th anniversary of the first documented descent down the Rio da Duvida (River of Doubt) in the Brazilian Amazon by former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt.
At the time South America was the least explored inhabited continent on earth. The expedition was co-led by Roosevelt and Cândido Rondon (b. 1865 — d. 1958), a Brazilian military officer who remains as important a figure in Brazil as Roosevelt does in the U.S.
To reach the headwaters the crew trekked overland for six weeks carrying all of their gear. Much of it turned out to be too cumbersome and was discarded along the way, leaving the men woefully undersupplied. At the headwaters of the River of Doubt only those individuals deemed essential embarked on the next leg of the journey. Once they began, the only way back to civilization was to follow the river until it joined up with the Amazon, though no one knew how far that might be.
Early on, the turbulent rapids claimed many canoes and even a life. The group splintered, and members turned on each other. A man in the expedition was murdered; the killer was left behind in the jungle to die. Roosevelt himself nearly committed suicide to prevent his company from languishing in the rainforest waiting for him to recover from a severe infection. By the end of the ordeal, Roosevelt was a shadow of his former self; he was fifty pounds lighter and had sustained permanent injuries.
The trip was not without its mysteries- the Amazon is one of the most biodiverse and ecologically productive regions, yet strangely the expedition members could barely glean any additional food to supplement their starvation portions. It was later discovered the men were not alone. Uncontacted indigenous tribes living in the dense jungle (for whom Cândido Rondon was a tireless advocate) shadowed the men on a large portion of their expedition, and even debated whether or not to ambush them. In her eponymous book, author Candice Millard describes how the men encountered a number of huts which were recently vacated days, if not hours, prior. The men agreed it was not the noise in the jungle, but rather the absence of noise, that was ominous. Famous naturalist and expedition member George Cherrie wrote of the sound at night “Let there be the least break of harmony of sound, and instantly there succeeds a deathlike silence, while all living things wait in dread for the inevitable shriek that follows the night prowler’s stealthy spring.”
The historical record of this trip is rich, though the music tonight is not strictly programmatic. Rather the story of this expedition serves as a launching point for a musical journey into the unknown, a portrait of foreign landscapes, and the lives of two extraordinary figures, Cândido Rondon and Theodore Roosevelt.