The final concert of our third season, subterranean tracings, features three new ensemble works. Here, the three composers offer a glimpse into their pieces.
I have been struggling to find a title for this piece. Unlike many composers who must begin with one, they usually come last for me. Even after the first rehearsal, hearing bits and pieces of it, a title still hasn’t come. Names are evocative and can act as guides to the way one listens, even prescribing an experience. This is so useful…yet it adds pressure to finding just the right thing to call it. This work is guided by a list of words forming descriptive images and modes of being: a heavy weight, stuttering, barking. It attempts to take its time, sitting in its sounds and textures, repeating, moving but going nowhere. I’m trying to create and hold a presence that feels glacial, that steals speech.
I am not putting so much weight on the title, no that’s not why I can’t find it. Maybe it’s possible that it doesn’t need one if only to be able to refer to it later. And it’s not that this piece is so grand as to not be nameable either. It isn’t that. Maybe it’s that I’ve spent so much time in abstraction and a title, although another level of abstraction, pulls me out of that space that I’m still sitting in as we’re trying to bring what’s in my ear to life. I’m still trying to find a title, less than a week till its premiere.
My conception of beauty is not a piece of sparkling jewelry that seduces at first glance, but something discovered, as if by a blind person on hands and knees, exploring the earth through touch. I am interested in acoustic debris—sounds we often like to pretend aren’t there: the hiss of breath escaping a wind player’s embouchure or the rattle of moisture collecting inside their instrument, the gentle thump of digital piano keys or the creaks and groans of a bench underneath the musician playing them.
These are sounds of effort, sounds of intention, reflecting bodily and mechanical engagement. They evoke not a grand, developmental narrative but the simple truth of proximity. Another person is there, as I am here. We occupy the same space. And while s/he may be focused on executing a particularly technical passage, or shaping delicate nuances of melodic contour, I am free to hold their debris sounds in gentle awareness. I feel the room in which they resonate. The stillness. For whatever transformations a piece might undergo, however violent it might get, these acoustic artifacts speak of more basic things: breathing, pressure, friction, the negotiation of performer and instrument. They occupy a different, more enduring temporality, and my attention roams freely.
The opportunity to engage in repeated collaborations with the same musicians is something I value deeply. When I begin a project with someone new, I usually have the hope that it will be a jumping off point that leads to a long relationship. When I met Ashley Walters in 2007, I hadn’t developed this mindset yet, but the friendship and collaborative relationship we’ve developed over that time has led me to seek recurring collaborations everywhere in my life. Ashley’s honesty, support, and dedication have played a significant role in how I write music, how I work with people, and how I think about performance. Composing this concerto for Ashley has been an inspiring (and terrifying) experience because it feels like the culmination of every musical interaction we’ve had in the last 9 years.
Lullaby 6 uses the same scordatura as the first solo that I composed for Ashley in 2009, a secret piece to be played as a surprise for my wife Stephanie during our wedding ceremony. The cello material is an exploration of the things that have excited me so much about Ashley’s sound over the years. She has incredible finesse and frightening volume and aggression. She can portray clarity and simplicity even amongst dense and unwieldy textures. Her articulation of structure allows long lines and complicated thought processes to unfold naturally. Rather than developing a concerto based on opposition, the ensemble material in Lullaby 6 exists as a result of what Ashley has played. She leaves a residue behind that begins to follow and attempt to develop and keep up, eventually warping itself into something unruly and chaotic. Both the chaos and the order exist because they have been created and guided by the soloist.
In January, when I was molding several fragments of cello material into a structure, my father passed away. The importance of maintaining long friendships is something that he instilled in me early and regularly. The friendships he formed in his 20s were still maintained and increasingly important to him in his 70s. He taught me that the relationships you form are what make life continue to be joyful, and what can support you in difficult times. This piece, that is the result of repeated collaborations and an incredible friendship is dedicated to him. Duane Ralph Deyoe 1941 – 2015 RIP.