of embers and aspen leaves (String Quartet No.2)
(2017, 11 minutes)
Flickering, whispering, rustling sounds
dance across four instruments,
Within is an image,
a tangled memory reconnected to the present,
a déjà vu of visual and emotional associations
from the past.
Commissioned by the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival
FLUX Quartet, Santa Fe, NM, August 2017.
It passes through doors left open
to different musical spaces,
tracing and retracing steps—
freely flowing between impressions that,
like memory and reality,
cannot be inhabited except in motion.
for clarinet, violin, cello and piano (2015, 6 minutes)
Sparks had its genesis in a miniature for clarinet and piano I composed in 2012, from a suite I eventually abandoned in pursuit of other projects. The little work had an extreme preoccupation with pulse and syncopation, and I found it had a certain electrical charge from the way lines and rhythms trade and flow between the instruments. I felt these ideas were strong, which inspired me to return and re-work the music into something more substantial. The resulting quartet is kaleidoscopic, energetic and constantly shifting in character. Sparks was commissioned by the Aspen Music Festival.
Michael Moy, clarinet; Michiko Theurer, violin; Evan Kahn, cello; Carlos Gutierrez, piano. Aspen Music Festival, Aspen, CO, July 2015.
for baritone voice, flute and piano (2014, 9 minutes); text anonymous
Reality. I mean, can you even define that word? Reality. You can’t, because you’d have to use all these other words that are loaded, too, so it’s really like we’re just all walking around using all these words and we can’t even define them.
Do you mind if we don’t talk for a little bit? Let’s just be. Let’s just be for five minutes.
This isn’t me. This is my shell. That isn’t you. You’ve never seen your face. You’ve only seen reflected images of your face.
The way this cycle’s text came to me could only happen in this century: a friend of mine, flutist Sarah Tiedemann, sat in a tea house in Portland and overheard a stranger trying to woo his date with profound thoughts. She posted these little nuggets to social media in real-time; I happened to see them and was totally mesmerized. Who was this person and why was he saying these things? Are they supposed to be serious? Witty? Was he on drugs? I never knew the author (and neither did my mediator), so I consider the words anonymous— spur-of-the-moment thoughts spontaneously captured.
I think the crux of this text’s appeal, stripped away from its context by both a third person and technology, is that one can easily accept and/or reject the meaning of the words. They sit on a fine line between some area of actual pensive reflection and something shallow, egotistical— nearly comical in its absurdity. I cannot take the words completely seriously and yet, to my ear, they do not lend themselves to parody either. Sometimes the music (and the musicians) buy into the thoughts behind the words and sometimes they work to undermine them; it is this wavering between belief and disbelief that pushes the cycle forward.
N.B. I give my friend and colleague Pierce Gradone full credit for coming up with the title, on the spot, when he first heard the premise for this cycle and the text’s origins.
Jeffrey Ray, baritone; Emma Hospelhorn, flutes; Ann Yi, piano. Live performance, May 2014, University of Chicago.
Poème (String Quartet No.1)
(2013, 11 minutes)
Poème began as the central movement for a much larger work, Spandrels for string quartet plus a percussion battery. In that piece, the music I wrote for string quartet alone was always meant to sit by itself, and I believe it has greater integrity and clarity in that form. I think of this work as something being carved line by line into temporal space and memory: the four instruments ensnare and entangle one another as musical tendrils develop and cascade over one another in a slow, transfixed pas de quatre.
Pacifica Quartet. Live performance, May 2013, University of Chicago.
for wind quintet (2012)
This gentle work was written for performance in Rockefeller Chapel at the University of Chicago. The premiere concert featured a spiritual theme and, in accordance, I think of this piece as an abstract meditation on my own sources of spirituality: sky, sunlight, water and sound. The five instruments create a fabric of placid counterpoint, echoing and eliding into one another. Against this peaceful, smooth surface, moments of agitation and brilliance flicker and subside—points of articulation above a prevailing inner calm.
University of Chicago New Music Ensemble. Live performance, May 2012, University of Chicago.