Music from elsewhere (2011) - Listen
Aspen Contemporary Ensemble, Sydney Hodkinson, conductor
Music from elsewhere takes as its basic shape the alternation of two kinds of material: a dance-like percussion solo heard at the beginning, followed by a series of soft, swelling chords in the remainder of the ensemble. These chords, which make use of quarter-tone harmonies to create a detuned, ethereal quality, suggest to me a "music from elsewhere," the awareness of something larger that occasionally interrupts our experience of prosaic daily life. The chords quickly become more animated and complex, overwhelming the "dance" music, which nevertheless reappears near the end of piece, transformed but still recognizable. Music from elsewhere was written for and premiered by the Aspen Contemporary Ensemble under the direction of Syd Hodkinson.
Mira Benjamin & Delyana Lazarova, violins; Sela Constan-Wahl, viola; Maxwell Frank, cello
Sounds II: Summer sounds, in the style of the twentieth century, for string quartet is part of a series of pieces that share common approaches to harmony and form. In particular, all derive their harmonic material from distortions of the overtone series, an approach that appeals to me because of the way large, rich chords and melodies, featuring a great variety of diverse intervals (similar in spirit to Berg's "all-interval chords"), can be generated.
Formally, Sounds II shares with the others in the set an interest in smooth transitions between opposed musical parameters. Each of the four movements is driven by a process of slow change: in the first between the pure tones of harmonics and the pure noise of scratch tone, in the second between the moderate register of middle C and the extreme edges of the instruments' ranges, in the third between the loudest possible non-pitched sounds and the softest, and in the fourth, a reverse process of extremely quiet to extremely loud.
Indiana University Contemporary Vocal Ensemble, Carmen Helena Téllez, conductor
For you have struggled with God and with men presents three scenes from the life of the Biblical patriarch Jacob, drawing its texts from the book of Genesis. The narrative of Jacob's life shows a high degree of subtlety and nuance in presenting the psychology and actions of Jacob, and these pieces aim to reflect this, tracing Jacob's development as a person over the course of his long life.
In Jacob's dream (recording not yet available), we see him as a young man, talented, destined for greatness, and a little cocky. Jacob sees the past and the future finds him older and close to despair, unsure of the worth of his own achievements and fearful for the future of his children and their descendants. Closure is found in Jacob wrestles with the angel; after a long night of turmoil, Jacob, renamed Israel, departs with a new and deeper sense of his relationship with God and his fellow human beings. Although the three pieces form a narrative arc, any one movement may be performed independently, showing Jacob at a particular moment in his journey towards wisdom.
Ensemble Laboratorium, 2010 June in Buffalo Festival (I - II, IV - VI)
Eric Chen, clarinet – Sarah Paradis, trombone – Nicholas Stevens, percussion – Ryan Chase, piano – Sophie Bird, violin – Kevin Künkel, cello – Joshua Groffman, conductor (III)
January Miniatures was composed in the space of about two weeks in early 2010. Often, the name and themes of a piece of mine become clear to me only as I compose; with these miniatures, however, I endeavored to have clear extra-musical associations in place before writing each movement. The resultant six pieces contrast greatly in character and thematic material, the four inner movements bracketed by a short series of soft chords heard first in the piano and returning at the end in the remainder of the ensemble. If there is a link between the movements, it is in a certain sense of wistfulness or loss that pervades throughout, depictions of things fading away, things already gone, or things that were only ever in our imaginations.
A Walmart Version of You (2010) - Listen
I. You can't swim in a town this shallow
II. Up and down the lonely treble clef
III. Faith really is the favorite food of fools
IV. Come join the youth and beauty brigade
Haloes experiments with the use of programmatic elements as a way of examining the relationship between musical material and extra-musical ideas. The shimmering gold haloes used in medieval and early-modern depictions of saints inspired the fragile musical clouds created by the ringing percussion and guitar chords heard throughout; these chords in turn inspired the rest of the material. By using this rather limited extra-musical idea, I hoped to achieve a balance between abstract musical sounds and specific images.
The title has additional significance. In their heyday, the presence of haloes, depicting the hierarchy of the spiritual world, showed an effort on the part of artists to portray the world not as it appears in its mundane, everyday reality, but as it "truly" is, in a spiritual sense. Not surprisingly, haloes disappeared in paintings with a growing emphasis on naturalism and realism in art. But music, because of its abstract nature, retains its ability to cut through everyday details and show us deeper truth. It can be difficult to disentangle our understanding of music from the realm of easily articulated ideas, but the incommunicable aspect of music is something I think worth pursuing.
Night to night speaks out takes its inspiration in several ways from Psalm 19, which begins, “The heavens declare the glory of God.” Powerful sonorities, reminiscent of thunderclaps, sound in the first moments of the piece; other types of nature imagery are heard throughout. As Night to night progresses, these evocations of the vastness of the natural world mix with more introspective, human concerns. Near the center of the piece, the texture and harmony clear to reveal a delicate passage revolving around an a-minor chord. The rolled chords and improvisatory melody call to mind something David, author of the psalms might have played on his harp as he contemplated his next composition.
Bethany Pietroniro & Chappell Kingsland, piano (I)
David Nalesnik & Joshua Groffman, piano (II)
Music for piano four-hands was written in September 2007. There’s not enough modern repertoire for the piano four-hands, and I love the possibilities of sound and polyphony that open up simply by having two musicians play on the same instrument. The influence of two composers who have written imaginatively for the piano, György Ligeti and John Adams (whose piece for two pianos, Hallelujah Junction, floored me the first time I heard it) is noticeable throughout.
Music for piano four-hands uses a musical narrative to build its form. This is particularly evident in the second movement, which represents my contribution to the growing body of “machine runs down” pieces. A persistent major seventh, with spiky polyphony above and below it, is heard throughout, contrasted with a series of shifting intervals and polyrhythms. Over the course of the piece, the two types of material exchange places: the aggressive major seventh music gradually grows quieter, while the interval music becomes louder. Eventually, the persistent motion bogs down and grinds to a halt, before climaxing dramatically.