Pictures Without an Exhibition (2019) - for solo piano, dur. 35 minutes
Commissioned by Oklahoma State University for pianist Heather Lanners.
Premiere January 28, 2020 McKnight Center for the Performing Arts, Stillwater, OK.
It’s with its title — Pictures Without an Exhibition — that this work began. Right away, I intuited the piece would be both an homage and a reaction to Mussorgsky’s great work Pictures at an Exhibition. But the title also felt fitting since I often think of my music as “pictures in sound.”
While there are many interconnections with the Mussorgsky, there are also many divergences. The main movements are generally longer than Mussorgsky’s individual pictures and, unlike his work, none of the movements are visual in inspiration, even if, perhaps, they evoke visual images for the listener. (Exceptionally, there are two suggestive titles, “La Poule” and “Languorous Clouds,” that reference specific aspects of the natural world).
The “Air” interwoven between the main tableaux was inspired by Mussorgky’s promenade theme. It and its variants give continuity to the work and provide contrast to the larger movements. Much like promenade theme, the air evolves with each iteration.
The creation of this work has been wholly thanks to Heather Lanners to whom I am deeply grateful. Her championing of my music has been both an inspiration and a joyous encouragement.
Les rives du présent (2010-2019) - concerto for cello and orchestra in four movements, dur. 45 minutes.
Commissioned by and written for cellist Xavier Phillips.
à Maman, pour célébrer l’éternel
A narrative for the cello where the orchestra serves as a kind of bas-relief, Les rives du présent is a concerto structured into four movements. The titles of the movements, Arrival, Forgetfulness, Remembering, and Return, suggest a kind of cycle. The work places great demands on the soloist, since they must evoke ever-changing moods and spaces as they bring this story in sound to life.
Letter for a Dying Soldier (2016) - for a cappella SSAATTBB chorus, dur. 7 minutes.
Commissioned by and written for Zoran Stanisavljević and the University of Niš Choir.
a letter written by Walt Whitman for a dying soldier at the end of the American Civil War.
During the American Civil War, the poet, Walt Whitman, often visited a Union hospital in Washington DC where he would speak to the sick, wounded and dying soldiers. He typically brought pen and paper and offered to write letters home for them.
The specific letter set here was discovered in February 2016 in the National Archives at the Library of Congress. It is one of only three, which still exist with Walt Whitman’s name and handwriting. We know that the soldier, Nelson Jabo, for whom he wrote this letter, died of tuberculosis in 1866 before returning home to see his family. He may have been too sick to write, perhaps even illiterate. He was a French Canadian living in northeastern New York State with a wife and six children.
I set this seemingly mundane letter to music to capture what exists between the lines. There are layers of emotion – Nelson Jabo’s awareness of his waning mortality, his thoughts of his family and his hopes and desires and Walt Whitman’s feelings as he looks upon the soldier. There is also the knowledge that Nelson Jabo would not see his family again. I was intrigued by the challenge of evoking this multiplicity of perspectives.
Quatre états d’âme (2015-2016) - for clarinet, violoncello and piano, dur. 35 minutes.
Commissioned by and written for counter)induction.
Premiere February 2, 2016, The Sheen Center for Thought and Culture, New York, NY.
Quatre états d’âme, with the clarinet at the fore, departs from most trios where instruments have equal roles. Each movement evokes a state of being and together they form a progression. The first movement begins as a plea whose intensity alternates with moments of tenderness. The second movement is a somber meditation. At times, serenity breaks through. The third movement is a playful interlude. A fourth movement awakens. It is a transformational movement, where both its own musical materials and those from earlier movements are remade. Solemnity and vigor trade places, resulting in celebration. Quatre états d’âme was written for counter)induction.
The Way Things Are (2013) - for flute and piano, dur. 15 minutes.
Commissioned by the University of Oregon.
Written for David Riley and Molly Barth.
Written for David Riley and Molly Barth and commissioned by the University of Oregon, The Way Things Are is a 15-minute work that treats the flute and piano not as a solo and an accompanying instrument, but in relation. This deviation from the traditional chamber music setting became a driving force for the piece. Beginning with a clear sense of who dominates, both characters, in ways appropriate to their personalities, engage and transform the musical materials. Over the course of the work their relationship becomes richer and more genuinely interactive.
While the title implies permanence or unchangeability, it is contradicted by the fluid and ever-evolving music. The piece suggests that “The Way Things Are” is actually a permanent state of flux. It is dedicated to Koren Cowgill.
On To Stillness (2013) - for mezzo soprano, oboe, guitar and percussion, dur. 27 minutes.
Commissioned by CSMTA for their 2013 Conference.
A cycle of songs on poetry by Georg Trakl as translated by Stephen Tapscott.
Written for Kirsten Sollek, Anna Hendrickson, and Kenneth Meyer.
Premiere June 29, 2013, Fairfield University, Fairfield, CT.
When I look for poems to set to music, what catch my eye and ear are texts that have openings that invite music to enter.
In its time, Georg Trakl’s (1887-1914) poetry was radical for placing images side by side and evoking – without guidance, without story – powerful emotional landscapes. When Stephen Tapscott first presented me with his translations in 2011, I was captivated. Since these poems are about space – each word or phrase asking to linger on the tongue and in the imagination, they seemed to encourage music to wind through them.
The sequence of poems is my own; chosen to emphasize poetic and musical connections and to shape the song cycle. The instrumentation features extreme variations in timbre from the rich color of the mezzo, to the long line of the oboe, the piquant harmonic resonance of the guitar and the rustlings and punctuations of the percussion. The unexpected union of these instruments is perhaps a complement to Trakl’s own juxtaposition of images, but is also an opportunity to bring dear friends, and master musicians, together.
Like the Trakl, the music gives rise to images and also creates its own spaces. It evokes rather than tells. While my music has always had this tendency, Trakl has brought me to new territory.
Gathering What Is To Be Told (2012-2013) - for mezzo soprano and guitar, dur. 32 minutes.
Written for Kirsten Sollek and Kenneth Meyer, voice and guitar.
A song cycle on poems by Keats, Shakespeare, Simic, Berry and Tagore.
Premiere May 23, 2015, Tenri Cultural Center, New York, NY.
Beginning with the troubadours, the combination of voice and guitar/lute has had a long history. Regrettably, while it has become the quintessential vehicle for songwriters, is has virtually escaped the attention of contemporary composers today. Wishing to reclaim this pairing, my intention was to showcase its expressive and textural vitality. This set of songs also gave me the distinct pleasure of coupling the talents of Kirsten Sollek and Kenneth Meyer, for whom I have long wished to compose. There are a variety of themes explored in this collection, from the existential, to love between individuals, to the horrors of humanity, and to man’s relation to nature. In some sense, the cycle builds to the penultimate song – with the last one serving as a kind of philosophical coda.
Offertory (2010) - for cello and piano, dur. 4 minutes.
Written for cellist Florent Renard-Payen.
Premiered November 6, 2010 at Expressiones, New London, CT.
An offering to Florent Renard-Payen for whom it was composed, Offertory is also an offering on several levels – of my work, of an offering in the ritualistic sense and as a plaintive, muted plea. The materials are few: a long, sustained line in the cello and spare bell-like sonorities in the piano. A short, somber work, it is restrained, yet poignant.
Little Ant Got Hurt (2010) - "Der kleinen Ameise tat's weh" (2010) for clarinet, bassoon, contrabass and narrator. Dur. 15 minutes.
Based on the 2008 work on a Czech children’s tale. In German, Czech and English translations.
for members of the ensemble “Die Reihe”.
Based on a traditional Czech children’s tale, this piece was originally written for solo oboe with or without narrator. In this trio version, the narrator has been explicitly integrated into the score.
Eines Tages, tat’s der kleinen Ameise weh.
Und der ganze Ameisenbau wusste davon.
Zu Mitternacht ward der Ameisendoktor gerufen.
Der Doktor untersuchte ihr Herz
Und verschrieb sodann die Arznei:
„Eine Tablette aus Zucker, dreimal am Tag genommen,
und er wird stark sein wie ein Löwe“.
Sie gaben ihr die Arznei, so wie’s verschrieben war,
allein, unsrer Ameise blieb’s weh.
Für die Ameise verstrich der ganze Tag in Brennen,
Und die ganze Nacht in Tränen.
Vier standen rund ums Bett,
Und die fünfte sorgte sich und sagte:
„Weine nicht, kleine Ameise, ich werde dir auf deine Wunde blasen
und morgen wird es dir viel besser gehen.“
Und er bließ auf die Wunde der kleinen Ameise,
und streichelte ihre Stirn.
Und am nächsten Morgen, hop!,
sprang die gesunde kleine Ameise aus dem Bett.
Übersetzung: Heinrich Deisl
see earlier version for Czech and English.
Piano Concerto (2008-2009) - for piano and symphonic winds, dur. 40 min.
Commissioned by the Barlow Endowment for Music Composition and written for Solungga Liu and the
University of Minnesota Symphonic Wind Ensemble, Craig Kirchhoff, conductor.
The piano concertos of the 19th and 20th centuries are ostensibly about hero and society. Think of a few examples: the Beethoven Third Piano Concerto, where the piano enters, after a long orchestral presentation of the themes, with a bold, confident statement of the first theme itself; the Rachmaninoff Second Piano Concerto which opens with the piano alone, its huge chords, growing in intensity, resound over a massive pedal point; the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 where the pianist shows his/her heroism from the start with the huge Db major chords that join the opening theme in the violins. In all of these cases the composers make it very explicit that pianist is hero.
My idea was to subvert that model and compose a concerto where the soloist would discover herself over the course of the work. In the first movement, she begins without a sense of who she is – playing brief interjections and accompanimental material. As the movement progresses she gains definition and becomes an equal with the orchestra. In the second movement she relates to the orchestra as with another individual, grapples with it and learns about herself in the process. In the third movement both soloist and orchestra have become interdependent; they speak together while retaining their individuality.
Movement 1: From the outset the orchestra is active and confident – fully formed – and presents the central musical material of the movement. When the piano enters, it does so timidly. After the orchestra propels the musical material forward for a time, we suddenly get a glimpse of the soloist’s essence, like a child unexpectedly revealing its inner self. A new idea – the piano’s alone – appears (accompanied by a murmuring flute). It is a soulful melody, almost operatic in its large leaps, colored by changing homophonic chords. It quickly disappears, however, as the orchestra returns to the fore.
The piano gains confidence over the course of the rest of the movement. Its first statement of the opening theme is broken, cut up, and unstable. By contrast, when the opening idea returns nearer to the end of the movement, the piano is at the fore and in command. Yet, it is when the pianist reiterates and develops her own lyrical theme in the middle of the movement that she reveals herself most fully. Following this passage, the pianist becomes a true soloist. No longer waiting for the orchestra, she drives the material forward.
Movement 2: “Coupling”, the title of the second movement, suggests the relation – emotional, sexual, intellectual ¬– of two individuals. Now on a par with the orchestra, the soloist can engage it as an equal. She converses with it, provokes it, interacts with it, and responds to it. Inspired by the heartfelt intermezzo from Schumann’s Piano Concerto, this movement departs from its original source to depict the tumult, passion and beauty of the coupling of two individuals.
Beginning quietly, tentatively, the soloist and orchestra exchange chords, displaying a kind of dependence on each other. Later the piano and orchestra emerge individually, the orchestra taking the chords and the piano singing over them. A sudden outburst fades back into the calm of the chords, which leads to a crucial passage that serves to divide the movement into two. Taking the opening theme of the first movement, the pianist transforms it – making it her own – over lush, pulsing chords in the orchestra. This idea will return at the end of the movement in the piccolo – a passage of great serenity and delicacy.
From this point forward, the music gains energy and couples the two protagonists more dramatically. The opening chords grow under a rippling line in the upper register of the piano and break into moments of force. After quieting temporarily, a long dialogue begins. The piano and orchestra trade phrases, each extending the conversation until the energy builds and the piano bursts forth with a dramatic chordal passage that recalls the second theme of the first movement. The orchestra responds to this with a climactic descending chordal phrase. The conflict exhausted, the music concludes in intimate quietude.
The second movement is the centerpiece of the concerto. Unlike the first movement, the piano introduces its own music, responds to and transforms the ideas from the orchestra and often propels the music forward. But it must relate to the orchestra and in this act more fully become itself. This movement reminds us that it is in relation to others that we most discover ourselves.
Movement 3: If the second movement was essentially about relating, the third movement celebrates interdependence. Often the piano comes to the fore (it is now a fully realized individual), but other times it hears what the orchestra has to say. However, unlike the second movement, the piano no longer waits for the orchestra to react and vice versa, but rather they play together, acknowledge each other and conjoin to form something larger.
The music is quirky and unpredictable and reworks many ideas from the previous two movements. By weaving in earlier ideas, the concerto culminates in a passionate and spirited celebration. Right from the outset we hear the independence of the parts, the brass with its rhythmic chord, the piano with its buoyant melody. Soon thereafter the saxophone introduces a new idea that will become important in the trombones and the piano much later on.
While the last movement’s inner logic might not be immediately apparent, there is a natural, if unpredictable flow. For example, many of the ideas introduced at the beginning of the movement only find fulfillment later. The saxophone melody is a good example. It is presented as a short phrase, reiterated by the bassoon about a half-minute later, but only fully developed in the middle of the movement by the trombones and the soloist. Similarly, the material related to the opening theme of the first movement returns several times. This threads the movement together, but does so loosely.
The third movement concludes a transformation that began by gaining identity in the first, self-discovery in relationship in the second, and interdependence in the third. The concerto as a whole therefore becomes a metaphor for a process that is the process of many individuals. Over three movements, the pianist has become herself. In this way she is perhaps heroic.
Little Ant Got Hurt (2008) - "Polámal Se Mraveneček" (2008) A Czech children’s tale for solo oboe or solo oboe and narrator, dur. 14 min.
Written for oboist Marlen Vavřikovà and the Ostrava Oboe Festival, 2009.
Premiered May 2009 Ostrava, Czech Republic.
Polámal se mraveneček
Dali prásky podle rady,
Little ant got hurt
They gave him the medicine as prescribed,
Pears on a Sill (2007) - for solo piano, dur. 13 min.
in 4 movements: 3 a.m. Nightingale; Spinning Waltz; Boatman’s Song; Caitlyn’s Goodbye.
dedicated to Anne Modugno and written for pianist Solungga Liu.
Premiere February 2010 at Bowling Green State University, Ohio.
Unlike most of my music, which is in one movement and relies on dramatic shape spinning out over many sections, each movement to Pears on a Sill is self-contained. Contrast occurs, but often within the context of a more limited palette. There is emphasis on recurrence – of opening ideas, distinct passages from other parts of a movement – in either unanticipated or open-ended ways. Each part of the set is a character piece and, as such, evokes a particular mood. To set a mood, most movements use rhythmic figures that recur throughout. Here the challenge is to create flow and a sense of a process despite rhythmic consistency. The last and most rhythmically concise movement is, in fact, the most expansive and a fitting conclusion to the set. While the titles of the individual movements are specific, the title as a whole hints at the idea of a collection of pieces set side by side. Pears on a Sill was written for pianist Solungga Liu and is dedicated to a dear teacher and enduring friend, Anne Modugno.
A Seeker’s Song (2006) - for solo guitar, dur. 9 min.
Commissioned by Kenneth Meyer with partial funding from the Hanson Institute.
Premiered November 8, 2006 by Kenneth Meyer, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY.
In virtually all of my pieces, it is the sound and personality of an instrument (or combination of instruments) that inspires a piece. As I gradually acquainted myself with it, the guitar revealed its searing, vulnerable beauty – a quality which totally enchanted me. It is the guitar’s inability to sustain, its particular six-string resonance, the method of plucking, and the special sound of turns or ornaments – due to the technique of hammer-ons and pull-offs, that I believe yields this beauty. Turns, in particular, enthralled me. (There is simply nothing like that sound on any other instrument.) They are central to the musical fabric of the piece, as both rhythmic and figurative elements.
Although we are used to the guitar in highly amplified settings, in its untainted state the guitar seems to me to embody intimacy, both in its delicacy and in its quiet power. And it is intimacy, mainly, that I explore in this piece – an exploration which unconsciously and naturally gave rise to an air of seeking. Seeking is universal to humans, but how and why we seek is uniquely particular to each individual. It is a personal process, intimate in the extreme. “Song” in the title speaks to an overarching lyricism, a particular quality in the music, which is punctuated by impassioned cries and invocations that seem to spill out beyond its confines.
I am profoundly indebted to Kenneth Meyer for his confidence in my creativity and his courage in commissioning new works for guitar. I hope I have done justice to this trust and am grateful to have come to know this remarkable instrument.
À l’écoute (2005, rev. 2009) - for 2 oboes and harpsichord, dur. 15 min.
Commissioned for the Ostrava Oboe Festival, Ostrava, Czech Republic.
Premiered November 25, 2005 by Marlen Vavřikovà and Richard Killmer, Ostrava University.
Two oboes and harpsichord brings to mind such a typically baroque formation (usually with a cello or bassoon laying down the bass line) that an immediate assumption would be that À l’écoute were some kind of neo-baroque concoction. However, when being asked to write a work for two oboes for the 2005 Ostrava Oboe Festival in the Czech Republic, my choice of a harpsichord was motivated not because of its baroque past, but for its brittle, pungent sound. It serves to contrast to the long, sinuous lines of the oboe. In approaching this piece, the inspiration was specifically not to write a baroque-influenced piece, but to create a different sound world. Rather than interweaving lines and counterpoint (as in the wondrous Trio Sonatas by the Czech baroque master Zelenka), in À l’écoute, the two oboes stand out as separate personalities. Opening the work, the first oboe (Marlen Vavřikovà) betrays an insistent searching quality. Embedded into its melodic line is a slow chromatic descent. By contrast, the second oboe (Richard Killmer) has a quiet, confident lyricism. The two oboes do not stay silent during each other’s solos. Rather, the other oboist often plays in rhythmic unison with the upper line giving it an added dimension. Although this is really a story about the two oboes, the harpsichord has a very important secondary role. It enlarges the sound palette and generates settings through which the oboes speak.
As the piece evolves, the intensity of the first oboe pervades various sections and the second oboe’s lyricism predominates in others. They journey very closely together and journey far – from the vigorous rhythmic unison that has characterized certain passages to a section of great freedom where each player follows a different tempo (during the rapid, wave-like arpeggios of the harpsichord). After reaching an impassioned oboe outpouring, the work suddenly descends – all players moving downward chromatically. The following coda is a celebration of arrival.
“À l’écoute”, a favorite phrase of my mother’s, means literally “at the listen”. To be “à l’écoute” is to be attentive, aware, and poised – all in the moment. This seemed appropriate both to the trajectory of the piece and the general atmosphere of quiet intensity that characterizes much of the work.
Madra’s Musings (2005) - for flute, viola and harp (also available for violin, viola and harp), dur. 10 min.
Written for janus.
Premiered January 31, 2007 by janus, Weill Recital Hall, Carnegie Hall , New York City.
à ma très chère Véronique
written for janus
Madra’s Musings is my attempt to explore ground similar to Debussy’s mesmerizing Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp. In this work, Debussy features the distinct timbres of each instrument, but also conjures up totally new sound worlds through his novel combinations. Like the Debussy, in Madra’s Musings each instrument is given equal footing – no one member dominates. The ensemble as a whole conveys a richly harmonic sound. Beginning plaintively in the viola, the piece unfolds quietly and gives rise to moments of great lyricism leading to dramatic, forceful passages. Although the form of the piece is fluid, there is, at times, the unexpected return to earlier sections. The bird-like flute solo, which sounds so much like a jumping off point earlier in the work, becomes – surprisingly – its concluding material.
I am indebted to janus for the genesis of the work. Had they not come together as a group, they would never have received this score from an admirer.
Fanfare to an Open Sky (2003) - for 3 trumpets, 4 horns, 2 trombones, tuba and timpani, dur. 3 min.
Premiered November 2003, Central College, Iowa.
Inspired by a performance of Dukas’s fanfare from La Peri, I decided to try my hand at one myself. To me, the challenge of a fanfare is to keep it extroverted, but to make sure it has personality, for otherwise it just sounds like every other fanfare. The Dukas fanfare as well as the fanfare from Janacek’s Sinfonietta are particularly impressive models in this regard. They bear the imprint of their creators so fully and they are so different from each other.
Since much of my music tends towards the introverted, I thought combining the extroverted nature of a fanfare with music of greater mystery would create an interesting tension that would give my own fanfare character. Thus there are many contrasts between bold gestures and more lyrical, reflective moments ending, nevertheless, in a certain splendor befitting a fanfare. I hoped the title, in its ambiguity, would be a way to refer to this tension.
Aria (2003) - for oboe, violin, viola and cello, dur. 11 min.
Commissioned by Alice Caplow-Sparks.
Premiered April 12, 2003, Eastman School of Music.
Like an aria which serves as an emotional high point within a scene or act, so this aria functions. Although wordless, the oboe sings a poignant, melancholic line grounded by the low tones of the cello. The violin and viola provide motion and accompaniment creating tension against the melody above. The second section is a vigorous, driving contrast, more contrapuntal and agitated than the lyrical first part. Like the return of the A section in a baroque aria, the soloist (the oboe in this case) embellishes its melody the second time around. In this aria, however, the embellishments give rise to a line which diverges significantly from the old one. Unlike its previous incarnation, the strings no longer provide motion but rich, lingering harmonies over which the oboe sings. Movement will return as the aria expands beyond its expected boundaries. The emotional intensity barely contained up to now and allowed a certain escape in the contrasting B section, now breaks forth with a long and furious oboe line propelling through an equally intense but more lyrical melody in the strings’ upper register. Dying down, the aria revisits the cadential material of the first section, ending unresolved with the oboe alone.
Love, Play On (2002) - for wind ensemble, dur. 24 min.
Commissioned by the Big Ten University Wind Ensembles.
Premiered April 25, 2003, Northwestern University.
Love, Play On is at its most basic a single-movement work: fast, slow, fast with a slow coda. But this skeletal description has little to do with its very personal logic. The work begins in movement, expanding out to a layered passage with flutes providing motion above, the trumpets singing a long melody in the middle and the low brass grounding the whole section in low, mainly major chords. Sounding like a loving embrace, the fullness gradually thins to give way to the playfulness of staccato chords. Here again, layers interact with each other, as they will throughout the work. Out of this texture will emerge chords in the winds leading to a more subdued but expressive passage. Suddenly movement returns more playful than before with horn and winds frolicking in dialogue. As if the energy could no longer be contained by this passage, the brass present a furious declamatory statement. This bursts back into movement with many interacting layers leading to a climactic gesture with the trumpet soaring through. Moving into calm, the music becomes more personal, achieving its moment of greatest intimacy with a quiet dialogue between two clarinets. A brief allusion to the arpeggios of the beginning sets up a passage of sensual chords in the horns over which solos hang. Slowly the music picks up its pace and becomes more playful again. This energy leads to a great expansion of the opening embrace as the winds return to their arpeggios and four horns sing the trumpets beginning melody in unison. We arrive at the point of greatest breadth and volume. From this the motion diminishes quickly until we are left with only low brass chords. In a fitting final appearance these chords, which have provided a foundation for much of the piece, close the work with great serenity.
“Love” has been a word much degraded of late. It has been brandied about carelessly. So in choosing it as part of a title I had to be very careful. In this music, then, let’s think of love rather as a force, an energy. It plays, winks and smiles. It cries out. It is ambiguous. It envelops. It is furious. It is intimate and is also serene. It is massive. And it has great dimension.
Pandora’s Beethoven-Box (2001) - for orchestra, dur. 10 min.
Commissioned by the Phoenix Symphony for its 2002 Beethoven Festival.
Premiered January 31, 2002 in Symphony Hall, Phoenix, AZ.
The Phoenix Symphony, Hermann Michael, conductor.
Pandora’s Beethoven-Box is not about Beethoven, nor is it a tribute to Beethoven. It is simply a sound world infused with elements of Beethoven, elements which have been transformed to inhabit their new context. For me, the thrill and challenge of this commission from The Phoenix Symphony for it’s 2001-2002 Beethoven Festival was to rework motives and gestures so that they would fit naturally, convincingly, into my own musical fabric. Thus Beethoven is there only as a secondary elements, only an added layer of the piece. It is not through a Beethoven quote (of which there are none) or through the recognition of a Beethoven reference (of which there are many) that the piece will suddenly yield its meaning. It is only through the acceptance and understand of the piece’s own sound world that it may reveal itself.
Nevertheless, identifying a “moment of Beethoven” might provide an entryway for the listener. A hint: it is almost exclusively the first, second and fourth movements of Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony that make their appearance in this work. On a larger scale, it is my particular fondness for the quirkiness of the Eighth Symphony that inspired my own piece. Pandora’s Beethoven-Box is full of stops and starts – not like a machine, but very human stops and starts of disquiet, hesitation, surprise, intensity. It plays with time moving forward, slowing, languishing, racing. And its contrasting gestures surprise by their sudden appearance next to each other. It is this aspect of the piece that suggested the title, for I saw Pandora open the box and unleash the materials of the piece, including Beethovenian elements, materials which are distinct in and of themselves, but placed together form a larger whole.
for inspiration hath no society with reason (2001) - for woodwind quintet, dur. 6 min.
Commissioned by the Chamber Music Festival of the East.
Premiered August 11, 2001 at Bennington College, Bennington, VT.
Lover Calls (2001) - for seven cellos (also transcribed for six cellos and bass), dur. 7 min.
Commissioned by the Tarab Cello Ensemble.
Premiered May 12, 2001 at the Merryall Center for the Arts, New Milford, CT.
Attracted to the inherent sensuality of several cellos playing together and the fine musicianship of the performers, I was thrilled to write Lover Calls for Florent Renard-Payen and the Tarab Cello Ensemble. Although the composition of the piece took a particularly long time, with many soujourns in the quiet of Connecticut to stimulate the process, the piece itself has a tight, confident character, rising from a quiet, sensual beginning and falling back again from a more buoyant middle. Each particular passage, as it were, yearns and calls out in a different manner, sometimes delicately, sometimes playfully, sometime tinged with melancholy. In Lover Calls, the body of cellos must play as one entity, reflecting, perhaps, a view primarily from a single source as in a first-person narration. By using the word narration, I do not mean to suggest a story line, for the music evokes rather than consciously depicts.
Evocations of an Earthly Nature (2000) - for orchestra, dur. 15 min.
Commissioned by ASCAP and the Rhode Island Philharmonic in honor of the Aaron Copland Centenary.
Premiered June 16, 2000 in Jordan Hall, New England Conservatory, Boston.
Rhode Island Philharmonic, Larry Rachleff, conductor.
As defined by the American Heritage Dictionary, to evoke is “to draw forth or bring out something latent, hidden or unexpressed,” a description that closely resembles my musical aspirations. I am most attracted to the mysterious and ambiguous in music, for it draws us closest to the inexpressible. The ability to change emotional perspective with a flick of the wrist, the richness of musical content where juxtapositions can tell several stories at a time and both comment on its parts and create a larger world simultaneously, these are some of the things I most cherish. Music penetrates beyond our concrete reality into other realities.
In Evocations of an Earthly Nature, as well as my music in general, I strive, above all for a satisfying emotional shape. To me, such a shape is satisfying not because it has a clear structure or predictable series of events, but precisely because it is surprising, unexpected, yet unfolds in a mysteriously elegant way. The music is not so much telling us a story as telling us a story about itself, and in so doing evokes places we rarely inhabit on a daily level.
The piece is divided into two movements, which last about seven minutes each. The first, Spirited, sometimes playful, aggressive, sardonic, sometimes tinged with melancholy, closing lyrically, or does it? The second movement, Contemplative, balances out the first. Unlike its rhythmically driven predecessor, it is essentially a series of long lines given dimension by the fabric through which they flow. In evoking – “bringing out something latent, hidden, or unexpressed” – I have ventured to engage “other realities” as I have described them. Yet as my title suggests, I attempt to call forth what is always in front of us. Evocations of an Earthly Nature, our ultimate reality which we too often forget, but a reality we can return to in embracing mystery and nuance. Would only that my work could serve, in some way, as a humble vehicle to that end.
Afterglow of a Kiss (2000) - for solo flute and large chamber ensemble, dur. 7 min.
Premiered February 29, 2000 in Kilbourn Hall, Eastman School of Music.
Composers’ Sinfonietta, Alyce Johnson, flute, David Gilbert, conductor.
A flitting scherzando grounded and darkened by low chords, breathlessness behind the ticking of clocks, a transformation into greater exuberance finally relaxing into sensuous calm. Perhaps an emotional trajectory provoked by an initial kiss? Or else varying responses set side by side? Either way, the music remains brief and everchanging, fluid and impalpable.
That I have written music in the form of a short concerto for flute and small orchestra is due entirely to the artistry of Alyce Johnson to whom I am very grateful. Without her musicianship as an inspiration, this piece would not have been written.
Recitative to an Absent Sky (1999) - for solo cello, dur. 6 min.
Premiered February 4, 2000 in Kilbourn Hall, Eastman School of Music.
Florent Renard-Payen, cello.
Recitative to an Absent Sky is a dramatic monologue for solo cello, impassioned and emotionally fluid like its often highly charged operatic counterpart. Beginning in a state of restless agitation, the piece gains increasing lyricism, and subsides into a desolate quiet. Yet it explores many different emotional territories along the way. A substantial challenge to the cellist, he must articulate the work’s dramatic shape while executing passages of formidable virtuosity. Recitative to an Absent Sky was written for and is dedicated with affection to Florent Renard-Payen.
A Spell of Myriad Dances (1999) - for orchestra, dur. 15 min.
Paul Jacobs Memorial Fund Commission by the Tanglewood Music Center.
Premiered July 26, 1999 during the Contemporary Music Festival, Ozawa Hall.
Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra, Stefan Asbury, conductor.
Although the title A Spell of Myriad Dances evokes many extramusical associations, the works itself stems from a purely musical impulse, the opening gesture: austere, unadorned chords that repeat to form a pulse. This pulse suggested potential; hidden energy contained in its quiet, steady insistence. So it became the foundation for the expansions and contractions of over the piece’s fourteen-minute span and also became a point of reference for the changing rhythmic underpinnings of each breath of music.
Because of its primary focus on rhythm and pulse, the piece is essentially about motion, given shape and dimension through orchestral color and harmony. What arises are layers of dance, energetic passages out of which melodic lines blossom, punctuations that shift the music’s direction. As in any living being, these elements do not exist separately from one another, but only accentuate certain features of the entity as different facets become apparent. Thus the title should not imply a suite of dances, but rather one long breath of dance.
Trio & Consort (1999) - for English horn, seven oboes and percussion, dur. 13 min.
Commissioned by Richard Killmer.
Premiered August 12, 1999 at the International Double Reed Society Conference, Madison, WI.
Richard Killmer, Anna Hendrickson, Andrea Gross, and Eastman oboe choir.
Trio & Consort for English horn, two oboe soloists, a choir of five oboes and percussion was expressly written for Richard Killmer, Anna Hendrickson, Andrea Gross and members of Prof. Killmer’s studio. It had its premiere at the 1999 International Double Reed Society Conference in Madison, WI in August 1999. The interaction of various layers in the ensemble – the English horn and the two oboe soloists, the trio and the consort, the consort and the percussion – as well as their physical placement on the stage makes this an inherently theatrical piece. It is the English horn, the provocateur extraordinaire of the ensemble, which essentially guides the process of the musical drama.
Sculpted Memory (1998) - for chamber orchestra, dur. 10 min.
Commissioned by the Fairbanks Symphony.
Premiered January 30, 1999 in Davis Hall, University of Alaska at Fairbanks.
Arctic Chamber Orchestra, Madeline Schatz, conductor.
Although our hearing of music is completely dependent on its unfolding in time, music has a mysterious power to subvert time – seeming to languish in places and press forward in others, not submitting to time as we know it in our daily lives. It is perhaps this quality which allowed me to capture lingering images and emotions around Christine Mirzayan, in whose memory this piece was written. Unlike prose, music doesn’t have to function as a narrative. Therefore, I have been able to probe different layers, sometimes simultaneously or in succession, as one atmosphere melts into the other. In so doing, I hope I have done Christine justice.
The first part of the piece sets the stage for our hearing and ends with a loud, impassioned passage. What follows is a long melodic line that passes through spaces created by the rest of the orchestra. Having finished weaving through various feelings and images, the music moves on into the final section, which functions like an epilogue. Solos by the flügelhorn and the oboe occur over a very slow moving series of chords. This chordal progression gains a shape of its own and closes the piece.
Quatre Aperçus (1998) - for mezzo-soprano, clarinet and piano, dur. 13 min.
Premiered February 4, 1999 in Kilbourn Hall, Eastman School of Music.
Kirsten Sollek, Anthony Franco, David Riley.
A song cycle on French poems by Rainer Maria Rilke.
A setting of Rainer Maria Rilke’s lesser-known French poetry, these four songs were written expressly for pianist David Riley. The intimacy and profound soulfulness of the texts I found particularly resonant and hope that I have done justice, through the medium of music, to their expressive nature. The first and fourth songs stand separately, but the energy of the second falls into the third. By having placed the songs in this order, I strove to attend not only to the dramatic shape of each individual song, but to the dramatic shape of the song cycle as a whole. The first three songs are dedicated to dear friends and their new spouses and the fourth is dedicated to my sister. The title may be translated as “Four Glimpses”.
Le souvenir de la neige
Une bêche alerte
Sur les coteaux on aligne
Tant de béquilles qui gisent
Heureux ceux qui l’auront suivie!
The memory of snow
An alert spade
On the hills we align
So many crutches falling
Happy those who have followed her!
All becomes calm, clear…
We live on an ancient earth of exchange,
The basic bread, the every day tool,
But even this emptiness, if we hold it
Empress (1998) - for large chamber ensemble, dur. 12 min.
Premiered July 19, 1998 in Ozawa Hall, Tanglewood, MA.
Tanglewood Fellows, Stefan Asbury, conductor.
I completed Empress in June 1998, having started it in February. Beginning in quiet serenity and ending vigorously, the piece’s musical materials change gradually over its twelve-minute time span, never returning to their earlier form. Thus process – gradual transformation – is at its core, taking the listener on a journey through ever-changing emotional landscapes. As in much of my work, in Empress I feature the woodwinds most prominently. I was also conscious of including the harp as an equal partner in the musical tapestry, instead of relegating it to a secondary role. The piece is dedicated to Angela Wellman, the empress of the title.
But the Stars Are Slower Still (1997) - for orchestra, dur. 18 min.
Premiered February 2, 1998 in Orchestra Hall, Chicago, IL
Chicago Civic Orchestra, Cilff Colnot, conductor.
Parmi les machines rapides,
Among the fast machines
Rainer Maria Rilke’s short, but eloquent poem Enterrement, originally written in French, provides the emotional and structural impetus for But the Stars Are Slower Still. Rilke presents three different speeds in his poem: the rapid, aggressive machines; the slow gait of a funeral, and the great cosmic pace of the stars. My composition is divided accordingly, with three sections of approximately five minutes each. The first is marked Vivace and begins with a strong, descending gesture whose repetition helps delineate the movement’s four shorter sections. These briefer parts are characterized as follows: first, the insistent bass drum and the chords in the strings; second, the fluctuation rhythms and predominance of the woodwinds; third, the accented quarter notes of the strings and an imitative idea that develops through the orchestra; and fourth, an explosive climax that arises from the juxtaposition of the elements introduced above.
Aggressively bustling at the pace of the late twentieth century, I have tried to recreate the “rapacious and annoyed” machines as Rilke describes them. They are subverted at their point of highest energy by the sweet tones of four cellos. The fury of the machines – burnt out – is replaced by the quiet introspection of the funeral which passes through it. This begins the second section, marked Lento. Instead of anything marchlike, the second movement presents two chordal ideas interspersed with solo melodies. The four cellos introduce the first idea, high in register and alternating three harmonies, and the low winds contrast the opening material with their dark, slowly rising chords. After the bassoon and alto flute solos, the two ideas are placed on top of each other and repeat once as the movement reaches its most expansive point.
The music of But the Stars Are Slower Still, so far, presented the agitated movement of the first section, with its quick harmonic rhythm, and the quiet sparseness of the second part, both of which are based on a chordal texture. Although the harmonic motion of the second movement is greatly slowed in comparison to the first, the third and final section – representing the stars – presents harmonies at their most unhurried.
While the twelve harmonies that underpin this final section sometimes resonate for thirty seconds at a time, there is motion – short motives and long phrases that permeate the texture. They move about intuitively and ebb and flow, in a largely linear way. Thus, despite its unworldly pace, the music manifests a fullness worthy of the stars. Perhaps it gives the sense of entering a new realm, a realm to contrast the chaotic atmosphere of our time.
Souffle et Contresouffle (1996) - for piano, dur. 9 min.
Premiered February 17, 1997 in Kilbourn Hall, Eastman School of Music.
Stephen Perry, piano.
A great challenge both musically and technically for the pianist, Souffle et Contresouffle presents two contrasting worlds – the driving, dramatic quality of the opening and the broad and multi-layered texture of the central section which includes a low gong-like chord, a long, slowly evolving melodic line in the mid-range of the piano, and the sometimes poignant, playful, or aggressive interjections above. The title, roughly translated as “breath and counterbreath”, makes allusion to the emotional tension created by the abrupt shifts or juxtapositions of moods throughout the piece. This is intended to be felt both from moment to moment as well as in the overarching A-B-A form. I am deeply grateful to pianist Stephen Perry for providing the impetus for the creation of this work.
Pavane en forme de voûte (1996) - for oboe and string orchestra, dur. 10 min.
Premiered December 12, 1996 in Kilbourn Hall, Eastman School of Music.
Anna Hendrickson, oboe and Eastman Strings, David Phillips, conductor.
Pavane en forme de voûte (pavane in the form of an arch) despite a sometimes brooding quality, never strays far from its initial calm, lush, somewhat contemplative mood. It breaks out into a climactic passage only before the return of the sensual, pavane-like opening. The linear development implied by the progression to a climax is frame within a larger arch form, as implied by the title, whose metaphoric cornerstone occurs when the oboe rises from the bottom to the top of its range over a homophonic string texture. Written for Anna Hendrickson, the oboe part typifies the character of the soloist, sometimes acquiescing to, sometimes fighting against, and sometimes propelling forward the musical material.