Cast in three movements – Too Far, Too close, and Bridging the Gap – Middle Ground searches for a common space between opposites. The first movement, Too Far, emerges quietly from the highest range of the violin. Barely audile, fingers at the instrument’s edge, the music hovers in a cloud of ethereal tones before slowly descending. In an abrupt shift, the second movement, Too Close, lives in the violin’s lowest range. Distorted, rhythmic bursts hammer away at chopped up scales and jagged arpeggios. Eventually waves of sound surge upwards, only to plummet back down, pulled by a relentless, unyielding gravity. The final movement, Bridging the Gap, seems almost without hope. Exhausted by the previous movement’s struggle, the music searches for a new path forward. Two lines, one descending and the other ascending, gradually, methodically move towards each other, steadily intensifying as they approach middle ground.
Check out a recording from the premiere featuring Kate Stenberg, Violin.
Middle Ground was commissioned by Kat Kroll, Barbara Sapienza, and Nancy Karp + Dancers and premiered February 10, 2016 by Kate Stenberg at the ODC Theater, San Francisco, CA.
An Economy of Means is a kind of companion piece to my trio An Index of Possibility. In Index I used a wide range of materials—glass, metal, wood, ceramic, drums, toys, found objects—to create a large form that moved between distinctive worlds within a broad sonic palette. With An Economy of Means I’ve done the opposite, deliberately using one instrument, the vibraphone, and forcing myself to make the most out of limited resources. With a few simple preparations—tin foil, a manilla folder—and judicious usage of the vibraphone’s natural properties, I tried to build something vast and varied, as broad and ambitious as the trio but in a narrower, more focused context. Set in six movements, the nearly thirty minute piece doesn’t have a specific narrative. Even so, I think there is always a sense of motion, of drifting from space to space, with little dramas unfolding along the way. An Economy of Means was commissioned by Doug Perkins and a consortium of alumni from the Chosen Vale Summer Percussion Seminar. I think the infectious spirit of friendship and collaboration so strongly felt at Chosen Vale found its way into this work, and for that I am extremely grateful.
Orisonis an old-fashioned word for prayer. Before writing this piece, I watched a Youtube of Rostropovich playing the complete Bach Cello Suites in a huge cathedral space. I was particularly taken by the Sarabandes. He played them quite slowly and took all the repeats, which made them very long. The slow tempi and the Cathedral’s intense natural reverb directed my ears toward the cello sound itself rather than particular notes or phrases. In those moments it seemed the music’s essence was not Bach’s beautiful writing, but the long tones and rich double stops reverberating through the cavernous, stone space. The impulse for Orison came directly from that listening experience. While ostensibly a solo, Orison’s simple material, bathed in reverb and long, gradually decaying echoes, becomes a kind of duet with the sound itself. Each tone is a question, calling out to a vast, unknowable space, and with every reverberation the cellist must listen carefully, searching for an answer before moving on to the next thought. Orison was made possible by the generous support of the Metropolis Ensemble, New Music USA, Rodney McDaniel, Carol Whitcomb, Hermine Drezner & Jan Winkler.
Check out this live recording by Ashley Bathgate from the World Premiere at (le) Poisson Rouge:
premiered 1.12.16 at (le) Poisson Rouge, New York, NY by Ashley Bathgate
I grew up singing and playing hymns. I’m not particularly religious, but somehow they stuck with me. I love them for that. I love how they’ve always been there. How they never fail to reach me, to draw out some long forgotten feeling. They’re like an old friend: we don’t keep in touch so well, but every time we see each other we pick up right where we left off. My piece Hymning is like a daydream, a quiet stroll through hazy recollections of these tunes. I don’t think I quote anything specifically, rather it’s a sort of fantasy, an extended riff on little phrases that feel similar to probably hundreds of different tunes. After a long, meandering first section the music finds it’s way back to the beginning. On second look the tune takes a few unexpected turns. Digressions lead to wistful flourishes and unexpected tonal detours before returning once again to the opening idea. The piece ends, but I think there’s a sense it might still be going, quietly, barely heard, somewhere off in the distance. I can pick up this thread any time. It’s always there.
The score has not been published, but contact me if you’d like to be notified when it is!
Hymning was commissioned by Michael Burritt
premiered 11.11.16 at PASIC 2016, Indianapolis, IN
Grand Tour is a musical diary of time I spent living in Venice. For centuries the Grand Tour was a rite of passage for budding young aristocrats. Privileged offspring of wealthy European families ventured south for months at a time, paying homage to the decaying relics of antiquity. For many the trip ended in Venice, a place of decadence and exotic splendor. While far removed from its past opulence, vestiges of the Grand Tour linger, bringing millions of tourists a year to Venice’s well-worn landmarks. Today the old idea of travel as self-realization remains, but now resides within the disneyfied marketplace of modern tourism. Romantic visions of antiquity clash with gigantic cruise ships and swarming tour groups as a constant assault of vendors, products, and services target the wayward traveler at every turn. Nonetheless, as a bookish, romantically inclined introvert, I clung to my Byron and sought out that old sense of poetic melancholy as I wandered the labyrinthine Venetian streets.
Grand Tour lives in this conflicted space, somewhere between the Fantasy-class Cruise liner towering over St. Mark’s Square and the anonymous 15th century wood-carving – perfect and splendid – tucked away in an obscure church. Cast in seven movements, the piece roughly outlines what at the time was a typical day: becoming hopelessly lost after a morning walk; weaving my way through the always busy Strada Nuova; a frenetic visit to some beautiful old palace overrun by tour groups; the daily spectacle of massive cruise ships leaving the narrow harbor as throngs of travelers lean over rails, zealously snapping photos and frantically waving arms; an evening stroll, people watching and gelato; a sunset drink on the lagoon; and finally, the nocturnal walk home through dark and narrow streets, at last quiet and empty.
On the softer side was composed for saxophonist Erik Steighner and premiered at the 2008 North American Saxophone Alliance conference. I imagined Erik looming over me with his giant metal horn as I somehow tried to make my lumbering, wooden piano keep up with his blistering bari riffs. This piece is the result. The opening begins with the instruments speaking almost as one as they articulate a soft, but rhythmically active melody. The initial drive never leaves, propelling the two instruments to an unforeseen destination before returning, not entirely unscathed, to the work’s opening material. On the softer side was composed in a spirit of fun and collaboration and meant primarily as a vehicle for Erik and I to play some snappy music together. Enjoy.
This recording is of Erik and I at the 2008 North American Saxophone Alliance conference.
Barton’s Blues is a place piece. Meaning, I would not have written it had I not moved to Austin. I started the project wanting to write something idiomatic for guitar, but also something that asked what a guitar meant to me and to others. Of course, there are many answers, but I eventually settled on the idea of guitar as expressive tool for the wandering traveler. I imagined some freeloading vagrant train hopping around the countryside, cares thrown to the wind, guitar in one hand and probably something illegal in the other. My piece is perhaps a small account of his journey, moving from carefree opening, to someplace a bit murkier and finally back to where he started, no worse for the wear, but happy all the same.
Barton’s Blues was originally composed for Jon Yerby and the 2005 Hammer/Nail project at UT Austin. After the premiere I worked extensively with another guitarist, Kim Perlak, who helped edit and revise the score. Kim has since played the piece all over the country and recorded the work for her 2012 album, Common Ground, available at all the standard digital shoppes.
This recording is of Kim at the St. David’s Episcopal Church, Austin, TX.