Flashback (2017)for wind ensemble Program Note
Program Note - Flashback
Some of the happiest years of my young musical life were those I spent playing piano at Texas State University in John Stansberry’s wind ensemble. Two decades later, part of me still wishes I could have stayed forever.
Mr. Stansberry was quite something on the podium: energetic, motivating, communicative, full of vitality, notoriously hard to please, and, above all things, a consummate teacher. In 1996, early in my freshman year, I approached him with a band score I had then recently completed: a short, frenetic work entitled Momentum. It was among my earliest attempts at composition. To my surprise, he programmed it!
In hindsight, I would be hard pressed to think of a point more pivotal in my compositional development. It was the first piece I had written for band, my first time working with a conductor, and my first public performance of a piece for large ensemble. It was this experience, as much as any other, that led me to music composition.
Many years passed. I graduated, moved to New York, continued my studies, and eventually became a college teacher myself. Mr. Stansberry and I remained in touch until the end of his life.
When Clay Stansberry asked if I would compose a tribute to his father’s memory, one he would conduct with his own band at Legacy High School in Broomfield, Colorado, I was honored. I began, not in my usual way by sketching or improvising at the piano, but by pulling that early band score out of a dusty drawer where it had sat untouched for almost twenty years.
My original thought was to tweak, tighten, and perhaps touch up a few loose details. But soon, the process took on a life of its own. I found myself making changes to virtually every note of every bar. Shorter passages were expanded. New themes emerged. Harmonies once limited by a young composer’s not-yet-fully-developed technique were now traveling rapidly to new destinations. Just as I could never go back in time and play again in Mr. Stansberry’s band, I could not separate myself from my own compositional development in the intervening two decades.
Not a single measure remains intact from the previous version. The new work, so radically different from its predecessor, demanded a more suitable title. Yet, the initial idea from so many years previous—its overall structure, its short melody in the Lydian mode—can still be recognized in what is now quite literally a Flashback. The result is not a revision but rather a collaboration between a composer and his younger self, both of whom owe an enormous gratitude to John Stansberry.
January 17, 2017
New York, New York
Resilience (2015)for organ and orchestra Program Note
Program Note - Resilience
For most of my creative life the organ has been a source of inspiration, not only as an architectural, acoustic, and aesthetic wonder, but also as a priceless vehicle for human expression. No instrument can boast of so much in terms of sheer dynamic and textural possibility.
Organist Paul Jacobs has advocated and raised awareness for this magnificent instrument in countless ways. His fierce devotion to commissioning American composers, championing the organ concerti of Michael Daugherty, Stephen Paulus, and Christopher Rouse, among others, has created a resurgence of interest in the organ’s expressive capacity. How honored I am to have been asked to compose a new work for organ and orchestra to be premiered by Paul Jacobs and The Pacific Symphony as part of the orchestra's American Music Festival.
Though I had previously written for symphonic ensembles and had even collaborated with Paul on a prior work for solo organ, I had never combined these immense forces. The work would become a thirteen-minute exploration of two seemingly limitless spheres.
From the first note, the organ asserts its place of strength. The orchestra answers immediately. This use of call and response is the basis of the piece. With each subsequent statement, the organ elicits a new orchestral interlude. These replies—sometimes short, but frequently more extended, often exuberant, but at times reflective—are as wide-ranging as the organ itself.
While composing, I was always mindful that this music would be interpreted by a conductor whose commitment to new music is unlimited and by an organist whose breadth of expression, as with the King of Instruments, knows no bounds. Resilience, a title meant to convey what is among the very best qualities of the human spirit, is dedicated with admiration to Paul Jacobs and Carl St.Clair.
December 22, 2015
New York, New York
Echoes of a Solitary Voice: based on a fragment by Lorin Maazel (2015)based on a fragment by Lorin Maazel for orchestra Program Note
Program Note - Echoes of a Solitary Voice
How fortunate I am to have known Maestro Lorin Maazel. I cherish his mentorship and the time shared with him, his wife Dietlinde and their remarkable family in their home in Castleton, Virginia.
Before his death in July 2014, Maazel was composing a work for The Danish National Symphony as part of the Orchestra’s long-standing Malko Conducting Competition. This new piece was to be concise, multifaceted, and above all, a challenge for even the most talented young conductors competing from around the globe.
The great loss of Lorin Maazel prevented this work from coming to completion. In November, four months after Maestro Maazel’s death, Dietlinde asked me to examine the sketches and autograph manuscript of his unfinished score. To study these primary source materials in Maazel’s own hand was captivating and revealing. Even in his early drafts, one could clearly see the Maestro’s painstaking attention to detail, each note written with keen understanding of orchestration; all clearly evident on each of the sixteen pages Maazel had thus far completed. The last page, numbered seventeen, was blank.
After examining Maazel’s sketch and fragment, Dietlinde asked me to use this work in some capacity and incorporate it into a new composition of my own. What a daunting endeavor!
To complete this fragment as Maazel would have done was impossible. I chose to proceed not by conjecturing the infinite possibilities of what he might have written, but instead by carefully examining what he actually composed. Rather than beginning from a single fragment and moving forward, I chose to absorb the essence of this unfinished sketch as well as the core of his completed works: his opera 1984 and his symphonic compositions—Music for Violin and Orchestra, Music for Cello and Orchestra, Farewells, The Giving Tree. It soon became apparent that despite the Maestro’s renown as a conductor, he was greatly underappreciated as the creator of a substantial body of highly original compositions.
Though Echoes of a Solitary Voice is my own, every aspect of its origins can be traced to Maazel’s sketches and fragment. The music weaves in and out of this given material, at times making explicit use of his melodic gestures, harmonies, rhythms, and textures, but, more often allowing his elements to develop, evolve and meld into new ideas and structures. The result is a tribute to another facet of a great genius of our time: Lorin Maazel, the composer.
March 9, 2015
New York, New York
Danish National Symphony Orchestra
In Dreams Awake (2014)for soprano and large chamber ensemble Program Note
Program Note - In Dreams Awake
When Susanna Phillips asked me to write for the Twickenham Festival her main request was that I compose a piece whose theme would mean something to the people of Huntsville. I knew from the outset that our performance would take place inside the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. So I began reflecting on outer space and the themes that come to mind: the sun, the moon, the stars, etc. I sifted through numerous texts, searching for literature that not only spoke to me but also for prose that would be compatible with my own musical language.
The title, In Dreams Awake, comes from a line of Thoreau: “Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.” This line, though never fully employed in the cycle, becomes both a point of departure and a recurring theme throughout this twenty-minute work where soft, slow, dreamlike sounds pervade.
Beginning with the last lines of Thoreau’s Walden—a depiction of dawn as the awakening of one’s mind—I turn to two writers, Stephen Crane and William Butler Yeats, each meditating on the nature of love and the night sky.
At the center of the song cycle is a one-minute bassoon solo. I’ve always loved the mystic sound of the bassoon’s high register, which serves here as an introduction to Edgar Allen Poe’s Mysterious Star.
John Gillespie Magee, an American serving as a pilot in the Royal Canadian Air Force before the U. S. entered World War II, is most remembered for his sonnet High Flight. On the back of a letter mailed home to his parents Magee captured the sensations of flying. He died in flight in 1941 at the age of 19. His poem remains a favorite of aviators and astronauts. It was quoted most memorably by President Ronald Reagan on January 28, 1986, the day of the Challenger disaster: “…Slipped the surly bonds of Earth...to touch the face of God.”
For years I’ve admired Samuel Barber’s setting of James Agee’s Sure on this Shining Night. But somehow it never occurred to me to set this poem myself. When the idea of putting Agee’s deeply personal words to my own music came to me I realized it was the perfect way to end this cycle.
Sure on this shining night
I weep for wonder
Wandring far alone
Of shadows on the stars.
August 23, 2014
Susanna Phillips, soprano
Affirmation (2014)for wind ensemble Program Note
Program Note - Affirmation
To affirm the world is meaningless, unless one also affirms the tragic reality which is at the core of existence. To live on—to develop means, as I see it, to enter always more and more deeply into the very essence of tragic reality.
April 21, 1931
That these lines were written in a private letter by one America’s foremost composers, one known for his optimistic populist works, is eye-opening. Though Copland intended this description for his own dark and sinister Piano Variations, the meaning of his words—that it is impossible to affirm life without also considering the tragic—serves as the impetus for my own Affirmation, a ten-minute reflection on wide range of often conflicting emotions that encompass the human condition: life and death; love and loss; darkness and light.
At no point in the work are these extremities juxtaposed side by side; but rather, they gradually materialize. While the music travels far in terms of its range of register, harmony, and dynamic it does so almost imperceptibly, as one long arc from beginning to end.
Affirmation is dedicated to the American Bandmaster’s Association and to The University of Florida Bands with much appreciation for their continued support. I’m also indebted to Col. Larry Lang and The United States Air Force Band for giving an astounding world premiere.
August 30, 2014
United States Air Force Band
A Solemn Place (2013)for wind ensemble Program Note
Program Note - A Solemn Place
For as long as I can remember I've been involved in choral music. As a young student I spent countless hours singing, rehearsing, accompanying, and conducting choirs. The lasting impact this had on my music cannot be overstated; so much of the way I compose is from the vantage point of the singer.
Equally important to my musical upbringing, particularly in high school and in my early college years, is the time I spent immersed with wind ensembles. Some of my earliest compositions were written for my high school band.
The result is that I internalized a significant portion of the choral and band literature from a young age. In many ways, A Solemn Place is the converging of these two worlds at their greatest common denominator: breath.
In January 2013 I completed O Magnum Mysterium, an unaccompanied choral work, commissioned by my friend and long-time supporter Robert Gehrenbeck for his Whitewater Chamber Singers at the University of Wisconsin. At the suggestion of John Lynch, to whom I owe much, I transcribed this choral piece for wind ensemble. A Solemn Place received its world premiere on October 31, 2013 by the Sydney Conservatorium Wind Symphony under John’s direction.
As with much of my music, a seamless quality permeates the work. Though the harmony alternates between passages of tonal stability and those of transition, there is no pause, no complete cadence, for the four minutes of the piece. While the music begins mysteriously and ends triumphant, it is the exploration between these two destinations that I find compelling. To experience this piece is to be continuously in the moment, not completely aware of what lies ahead or where the piece may lead, until the final chord.
Though A Solemn Place and the initial choral work on which it is based do not share the same title, the contemplative, spiritual nature is preserved in the wind band adaptation. Both versions are dedicated to a great teacher and friend, Mary Anthony Cox.
October 31, 2013
University of Georgia Wind Ensemble
O Magnum Mysterium (2013)for SATB Chorus
Houston Chamber Choir
Détours (2012)for solo piano Program Note
Program Note - Détours
The music begins in bold harmonies emphatic in their dissonance. Immediately following this opening theme the work departs on a set of fifteen variations, or ‘detours’, each flowing continuously into the next without pause.
Traveling between points of extremity, at times the textures are delicate and transparent; other surfaces are solid and resilient; some moments are fleeting and short-lived while others are expansive and widespread. At the center of the work the music calms itself into quiet serenity reflecting on what has already occurred. After this respite the journey continues its course, each variation building upon the next.
As the rhythm gains momentum so too does the dissonance that defines much the work. When the fifteenth and final variation is reached—the recapitulation of the opening theme—the other fourteen variations continuously interject their influence by brute force. The coda is a virtual explosion of color and sonority.
Détours was commissioned by Texas State University. It was given its world premiere on November 7, 2012 by pianist Marc-André Hamelin, to whom this work is respectfully dedicated.
August 6, 2012
Marc-André Hamelin, piano
Prism (2012)for orchestra
Then Last of All (arr. 2011)SATB version
Flute Concerto (2011)for flute, string orchestra, and percussion
Drive (2010)for solo percussion
Alex Lipowski, Percussion
Tower Ascending (2009)for wind ensemble Program Note
Program Note - Tower Ascending
Tower Ascending for wind ensemble and clarinet solo is my own depiction of an ongoing aspect of urban city life: the construction of modern skyscrapers. The music’s structure, development, and gradual assimilation of materials are best described as cumulative. Just as skyscrapers are built laying stone upon stone, floor upon floor, so, too, is this music constructed from the bottom up: measure upon measure, phrase upon phrase, rhythm upon rhythm. This ascension is gradual and permeates many dimensions of the music: register (low to high), dynamics (soft to loud), and tempo (slow to fast).
Living on New York’s Upper West Side I witness first hand this construction process on a daily basis. Although any skyscraper represents this idea perhaps the one that stood out for me during the composing of this piece is the Freedom Tower. It goes beyond architectural marvel to symbolize the resolve of the American spirit.
This eight-minute composition is divided into two equal parts: four minutes of slow music, four minutes of fast. Each of the two sections culminates in a dramatic offstage clarinet solo, the clarinet both summarizing and commenting on the music that has come immediately before, stating the material in its most concise form.
Composed between July 2008 and January 2009, Tower Ascending was commissioned by John P. Lynch for the University of Georgia Wind Ensemble’s performance at the College Band Directors National Association (CBDNA) 2009 in Austin, Texas. My sincere thanks go to John Lynch for his encouragement, invaluable insights, and involvement during every stage of the composing process.
Tower Ascending is dedicated to my own college band director, John Stansberry, in honor of his retirement. I am deeply indebted to John Stansberry for his strong support of my music during the formative stages of my career.
January 15, 2009
New York, New York
United States Air Force Band
Reverie (2008)for solo organ Program Note
Program Note - Reverie
In late 2007 my friend Paul Jacobs asked me to write an eight-minute organ solo for the dedicatory concert of the newly installed Schoenstein in New York City’s historic Christ and St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church. What an honor! I began sketching immediately. Paul’s only request was that the music be “soft”, “serene”, and even “dreamlike” in character.
In March 2008 the installation of the instrument was almost complete. From that time on I composed seated at this brand new console. Each night, about 11:00 pm, Paul would unlock the sanctuary at Christ and St. Stephen’s, open the organ, and leave me alone for several hours. This magical instrument in this dimly lit intimate space was absolutely inspiring.
Reverie was completed in early May, two weeks before its premiere. On May 17, 2008 Jacobs performed two identical programs for full audiences at Christ and St. Stephens. In keeping with Paul’s custom he performed the concert, including Reverie, from memory.
Following the premiere, over the next three years, I made several slight revisions, each contributing to what is now the final version. Paul has since performed this version in many venues: Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, Davies Hall in San Francisco, Rockefeller Memorial Chapel in Chicago, St. Petri Church in Stavanger, Norway, and the Westminster Cathedral, among others.
The work is divided into three equal parts, each section exploring the more delicate sonorities of the organ, the first of which is best characterized by the underlying slow-changing harmonies of the strings that accompany a duet between two flutes, one extremely legato and the other more detached. The short articulations of the second flute foreshadow the basic motive of the middle section: an ostinato outlining the E Lydian scale. Over this repeated pattern is a new flute melody, now in the pedals, and a string accompaniment. The third section comprised of chorale- like harmonies brings the movement to its climax. A short coda recalls the musical material from the opening.
Reverie is dedicated to Paul Jacobs. It was an honor to have worked with him so closely.
May 1, 2008
New York, New York
Paul Jacobs, organ
Watersong (2008)for violin, marimba/vibraphone, harp, piano, and string orchestra
Members of The Juilliard Orchestra
A Time to Break Silence (2007):Songs Inspired by the Words and Writings of Martin Luther King Jr.
for baritone (or tenor) and piano
All Things New--11 Solo Piano Settings of Hymnody and Song (2006)for solo piano
A Backward Glance over Traveled Roads (2005)Text: Walt Whitman
Nicolette Mavroleon, soprano
Clockwork (2005)for flute, clarinet, violin, viola, cello, percussion, and piano
Aspen Contemporary Ensemble
On the Words of James Madison (2004)for SATB chorus, a cappella
Text: James Madison
A Movement for String Quartet (2004)for two violins, viola, and cello
An Unbroken Chain to Infinity (2003)for orchestra
Thoughts Without Words (2002)for flute and piano
Exclamation (2002)for orchestra
Ave Maria (2000)for SATB chorus, a cappella
New York Concert Singers
The Greatest of These (1999)for SATB chorus, flute, clarinet, oboe, bassoon, cello, double bass, harp, and piano
Text: I Corinthians 15
Nightfall (1999)for solo piano
Tim Woolsey, piano
And death shall have no dominion (1999)for contralto and piano
Text: Dylan Thomas
Then Last of All (1999)for The King's Singers, a cappella
Text: Walt Whitman
The King’s Singers
Violin Sonata (1998)for violin and piano
River Sanctuary (1998)for wind ensemble
Eclipse (1997)for two pianos
Midnight (1997)for solo piano
Momentum (1997)for wind ensemble
A Keats' Triptych (1996)for SATB chorus, a cappella
I. When I have fears that I may cease to be
II. Shed no tear—O shed no tear
III. Sonnet to Sleep
Text: John Keats