Old and Lost Rivers

  • September 6, 1986
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Dedicated to Stephen M. Aechternacht


Premiere: March, 1987; Carnegie Recital Hall, New York; Ursula Oppens, piano

Duration: 6’



Driving east from Houston along Interstate 10, you will come to a high bridge which crosses many winding bayous. These bayous were left behind by the great wanderings over time of the Trinity River across the land. When it rains the bayous fill with water and begin to flow. At other times -- when it is dry -- they evaporate and turn green in the sun. The two main bayous are called Old River and Lost River. Where they converge, a sign on the side of the highway reads: Old and Lost Rivers.


In 1986 the state of Texas was engaged in a celebration of its sesquicentennary. This event was to be marked by the commissioning of a series of concert openers for the Houston Symphony, of which I had just been appointed Composer in Residence. Thought not a traditional Fanfare, Old and Lost Rivers took its place in what came to be known as the Fanfare Project alongside twenty other compositions from composers from all over the US and the world including Elliott Carter, John Adams, Poul Ruders and Marius Constant.


I composed Old and Lost Rivers in the spring of 1986 in Houston as a tribute to my new home. Later that year, I made a piano version of the piece for Ursula Oppens and presented it to her as a birthday present.


Christoph Eschenbach has been a great champion of Old and Lost Rivers; performing and recording the piano version (for Virgin Classics) and the orchestral version with among others, The Chicago Symphony, The Cleveland Orchestra, The Philadelphia Orchestra, The San Francisco Symphony, The Pittsburgh Symphony, and The Zurich Tonhalle."


Old and Lost Rivers has been recorded several times; by the Houston Symphony, with Christoph Eschenbach as conductor, and in the solo version, with Christoph Eschenbach as pianist, on the Virgin Classics label; by the London Symphony Orchestra, with John Williams as conductor, on the Sony Classical label; and in the version for solo piano, performed by Ursula Oppens, on the Music and Arts label, and performed by David Troy Francis, on the Barbarian Records.


- Tobias Picker



The New Yorker - Andrew Porter

"...I wrote about a piano version of Picker's Old and Lost Rivers in March, after Ursula Oppens played it in Weill Hall; in full-orchestra colors, this web of gently wandering melodies proves even more beguiling."



New York Newsday - Peter Goodman

"...Picker's Old and Lost Rivers is not hard to characterize; its influences are not deeply buried; nor is it at all difficult to fathom why this six-minute piece, written in 1986 for the Houston Symphony Orchestra, has become his most popular work, what the composer himself calls his Sheherazade."


"Just think 'Aaron Copland'...To this American tradition, add richness of orchestration and a sense of timelessness, with a slow-moving thread of melody meandering through like a river in bayou country..."


"It is lush, skillfully written, very artful, and very cinematic in orientation. There were cheers for the composer Tuesday night when the Philadelphia Orchestra gave the score its New York premiere."



Time Magazine - Michael Walsh

"...This four-minute evocation of the East Texas bayous is a kind of contemporary counterpart to Charles Ives' The Housatonic at Stockbridge, and Oppens handsomely captures its meandering, contemplative mood."



The New York Times - James R. Oestreich

"André Watts does not often turn his formidable pianistic technique to contemporary music, and it was interesting that he chose Tobias Picker's Old and Lost Rivers on which to do so in his recital...at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This little piece, from 1986, is disarmingly simple, with widely separated melodies evidently representing the high bridge and the winding bayous Mr. Picker describes in the program notes."


Los Angeles Times - John Henken

"...Tobias Picker's austerely poignant Old and Lost Rivers, played with tender care, completed the program."


Texas Monthly - W.L. Taitte

"...Comissiona had the idea of commissioning a series of short works to commemorate the Texas sesquicentennial, and Picker had the inspiration to suggest fanfares...They compiled a long list of the living composers who most interested them and then narrowed it down to about two dozen names, mostly American..."


"The list of works is tantalizing, offering pieces by some of the best-known names in American music: elder statesmen like Elliott Carter and William Schumann; popular showboaters like John Williams...and Steve Reich...and Pulitzer prize-winners like Jacob Druckman."


"...Picker's fanfare, Old and Lost Rivers, is at once the least fanfarish and the most impressive of all the pieces that have been performed. It's somewhat reminiscent of Copland's Appalachian Spring, but Picker's work is better than any comparable swatch of Copland -- it is subtler and more complex, technically and emotionally. The title...suggests the tenor of the work: it's about gentleness and mystery and nostalgia. Picker was attracted to the place commemorated in the piece because he had "never seen a more poetic name." He talked to a geologist and even consulted a geological map; the music seems to reflect the slow changes that have taken place in Texas over the last 150 years."


The Kansas City Star - Scott Cantrell

"The Kansas City Symphony's concert...at the Scottish Rite Temple started afloat, as it were, with three 'river' pieces."


"The first was Old and Lost Rivers by the gifted American composer Tobias Picker. Seven minutes long, this is a sublimely beautiful piece: a hushed, hazy tone poem whose hints at Coplandesque modality tug at the heartstrings."



Piano Quarterly - Number 142

"Tobias Picker's Old and Lost Rivers...flows peacefully from beginning to end, spreading the notes of the D-flat scale widely across the keyboard."



Old and Lost Rivers

Sheet Music 


Recording available on Wergo Records (Ursula Oppens, piano), Music and Arts label (Oppens), and Virgin Classics (Christoph Eschenbach, piano)














For solo piano