for solo violin, on paintings by Michiko Theurer (2016)
Moths follows the hues and gestures threaded through three paintings:
Chrysalis - innocent beginnings, filaments.
Fractures - a series of foreboding ebbs and flows.
The Moths - an unveiling, in unsteady flight.
The three movements are designed to be played in sequence but not necessarily consecutively; the performer may choose to insert other music in between.
'Chrysalis' and 'Fractures' function as preludes for 'The Moths', anticipating its developments and gestural identities.
Moths was commissioned by Michiko Theurer for Circling the Waves,
inspired directly by her mixed media paintings Chrysalis, Fractures and The Moths - and by her inexhaustible passion for weaving together art, music and literature.
Michiko Theurer, violin. Premiere performance. Recorded live at the Dairy Center for the Arts, Boulder, CO, March 13, 2017.
along the soft trails
seven sketches on paintings by Michiko Theurer for solo violin (2015)
along the soft trails is a series of short sketches inspired by the paintings of violinist and visual artist Michiko Theurer. Its seven miniature movements reflect upon seven of Michi’s dynamic watercolor-and-ink paintings, each one a portal to a world of brilliant colors and graceful, swirling energy. The inspirational kernels for each movement are diverse and often stacked upon one another—sometimes the musical gestures evoke the abstract dance of lines, balance, and motion I sense in her artwork, while elsewhere I was inspired directly by her subjects, and in other places the music reflects certain atmospheres or hues suggested by the visuals. Three of the paintings reference specific composers and poets, part of a theme of polyphonic dialogues across media that recurs in both Michi’s visual art and her musical performances. In threading those dialogues and inspirations back through another layer, along the soft trails pays homage to the fluid, intertextual give-and-take between art, music, literature, and dance.
for solo harp (2015)
Night was written with, for, and is dedicated to harpist Alison Attar. The piece began life through Project Incubator as a set of miniatures — little ideas crystallizing from our joint explorations of timbral and musical facets of the instrument. The concept of separate pieces fell away pretty early on, leaving behind a residue of sounds and gestures which seeded the final, through-composed work. Its character is nocturnal, subdued, intimate in a way only possible with a solo instrument: within a prevailing calm, things appear and disappear from shadows on the periphery, some clear and active, others quiet and obscured.
As part of Project Incubator, which involved ten collaborations and ten world premieres of new solo pieces for different instruments, the entire collaboration process was documented and recorded. I include here a short documentary film about my collaboration with Alison, courtesy of filmmaker Frances Cedro.
Alison Attar. Live performance, May 2015, Constellation, Chicago, IL.
impressions of flames in ice
for solo piano (2013)
It is ironic that, as a pianist and as a composer who writes primarily at the piano, I find composing works for my own instrument alone far more difficult than writing for almost any other instrument or ensemble, because inevitably whatever repertoire is already in my fingers leaves traces behind in the work and it is hard to make those traces cohere. I wrote impressions of flames in ice in response to a striking event in Chicago in the cold nights of January 2013: a warehouse in the neighborhood of Bridgeport, long abandoned, caught fire in a massive blaze that burned for days. As firefighters sprayed the building, it became encrusted with ice in the subzero temperatures. After the fire was extinguished, what remained was a hollowed, charred shell covered with a spectacular sheen of frost and icicles—eerie and enchanting in its otherworldliness. The breathtaking imagery of this single place containing within it multiple histories, of fire and ice existing side by side, refracts through this solemn work by way of textural references to my musical fire and ice: the piano literature of Scriabin and Debussy, both of whose works were in my hands at the time of composing.
for solo bassoon (2012)
When I was young, the Beatrix Potter books were some of my favorite stories. I was especially fond of The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher, the story of a raincoat-and-galosh-wearing frog that goes out on a lily pond one day to catch minnows. Despite the relaxed atmosphere, Jeremy Fisher encounters constant nuisances and obstacles on his fishing trip—a water beetle bites his foot, the sound of nearby rats force him to seek safer ground, he accidentally catches a stickleback that pricks him, and he nearly gets swallowed up by a trout. The story effortlessly combines levity, quiescence, and danger, blending and shifting between them.
Although a stereotype, I find that the sound of the bassoon can be especially comical, so the instrument leaped to mind while re-reading the story—or perhaps the story leaped to mind while thinking about the bassoon. But it is also capable of great lyricism, delicacy, and power, and so I have tried to weave those strengths together in this work; it is not programmatic per se, but rather inspired by Potter’s tale and its remarkable tonal contrasts. Jeremy Fisher was co-commissioned by Tyler Austin, Ray Jacinto, Chris Jackson, Brian McKee and Ryan Morris, alumni of the Imani Winds Chamber Music Festival.
Karl Rzasa. Live performance, November 2014, University of Chicago.