30-year-old composition by local composer Larry Ries makes its debut

Larry Ries’ musical masterpiece “Sea Surface Full of Clouds” to be publicly performed, about 30 years after it was originally written.

By Shelby Robinson

Ulysses James conducts the WMPA. Photo courtesy of Heather Norcross.

Sometimes there’s a Beethoven in your midst when you least expect it.

Lawrence Ries is a retired federal employee, having worked for the General Services Administration and government agencies for more than 25 years, but his passion lies as a self-taught composer and orchestrator.

This weekend Ries’ masterpiece will debut as the Washington Metropolitan Philharmonic Association will perform his composition, “Sea Surface Full of Clouds,” which he first began composing almost 30 years ago.

“Poetry is one of my great loves,” he said. “I always liked Wallace Stevens, and when I came across his poem ‘Sea Surface Full of Clouds’ in the 1980s I immediately wanted to compose something for it.”

As an English major in the 1970s, Ries developed a strong love of music, which stemmed from his love of the melodic quality of poetry. Around this time, Ries also became inspired by Claude Debussy and began teaching himself piano and, shortly after, composing his own works.

Ries’ moved to the D.C. area in the 1980s and got married. His wife noticed his talent for composing, so they decided that when they had kids, he would stay home with them and work on composing.

“Whenever the kids would take their naps or watch TV, I would work on music. So I ended up composing a great deal of music during that time.”

The choir director at Ries’ church encouraged him to orchestrate a few of his compositions and put him in touch with Ulysses James, the music director of the Mount Vernon Orchestra, now the Washington Metropolitan Philharmonic Association. In 1988, the Mount Vernon Orchestra performed Ries’ composition, “Three Poems by Wallace Stevenson.”

While Ries was working with the Mount Vernon Orchestra in the 1980s, his composition of “Sea Surface Full of Clouds” was originally born as a piece for two pianos. But it was never heard by an audience because shortly after composing it, Ries went back to work, which took time away from his orchestral inclinations.

After his retirement in 2009, Ries purchased notation software, which allows the user to hear the composition as if it’s being played by a group or orchestra.

Now the acting president of the WMPA, Ries began copying some of his old sketches into the program and found “Sea Surface Full of Clouds.”  After orchestrating his piano piece, Ries brought it to the WMPA.

This weekend, you can hear the debut of “Sea Surface Full of Clouds” performed about 30 years after it was first written.

The Washington Metropolitan Philharmonic Association performs “Sea Surface Full of Clouds”
Sunday, March 30, 2014, 3 p.m.
T.C. Williams High School, 3330 King St., Alexandria
www.wmpamusic.org, tickets: $20 for adults, free for 18-and-under