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Concertino for Clarinet

[2005] – for clarinet and chamber ensemble – 17’

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Winner, ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Award
Commissioned by the New York Chamber Ensemble, Alan R. Kay, Music Director.
World Premiere performance by Alan R. Kay and the New York Chamber Ensemble
June 14, 2005 at the Cape May Music Festival, Cape May, NJ.
Dedicated to Alan R. Kay

For solo clarinet with flute (doubling piccolo), bass clarinet, horn, trumpet (doubling flugelhorn), piano, violin, viola, cello and bass.

Jazz was my first musical love, but over time I became increasingly frustrated with its boundaries and preconceptions, especially during the period when I was completing a performance degree in jazz guitar at New York University. For a good five years, I excised jazz from my musical life, and I reoriented myself as a composer of music for concert instruments.

It was the clarinetist Alan R. Kay who encouraged me to re-examine my relationship to jazz in the Concertino that he commissioned for his concert series at the Cape May Music Festival. Within a three-movement structure that honors the classical concerto tradition, I explored distinct aspects of jazz that had inspired and informed my musical voice.

Certain elements of the first movement, Ring tone, were inspired by saxophonist Wayne Shorter, especially his Brazilian-themed album Native Dancer, one of the most lyrical and refreshing records I know. The “Ring tone” theme, introduced in the opening measures by the violin and viola, is an exact transcription of Alan’s cell phone ring, a sound I came to know well when we shared an office at the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. The second movement, Ballad, is a reflection on the classic show tunes of George Gershwin, Cole Porter and Jerome Kern. The last movement, Closer, revisits the brand of jazz I used to write and perform with my band.

Confused Blues

[2007] – for large jazz ensemble (big band) – 9’

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Winner, ASCAP Young Jazz Composer Award

For jazz ensemble consisting of two alto saxophones, two tenor saxophones, baritone saxophone, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, bass trombone, guitar, piano, bass and drums. Featured soloists: bass, tenor sax, drums. For advanced college or professional ensemble.

Dedicated to Michael Formanek

I first got to know Michael Formanek in the late 1990’s through his work with saxophonist/composer Tim Berne in the legendary band Bloodcount. I was thrilled to connect with Mike several years later at the Peabody Conservatory, where he was directing the jazz ensemble and where I went for some long overdue schooling in composition.

Confused Blues began as a small-ensemble work designed to feature my dear friend and bass hero, Rob Jost. In adapting it for big band, I retained the emphasis on the bass and convinced Formanek to perform it with the ensemble. To add to the general sense of confusion, the ensemble at one point breaks into an outlandish fugue.

El Hombre

[2003] – for chorus and orchestra – 5’

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Commissioned by the Fairfax Choral Society.
World Premiere December 6, 2003
Fairfax Choral Society and the Fairfax Symphony
Douglas Mears, Conductor
Schlesinger Center
Fairfax, VA

Instrumentation: *2222, 4221, timpani + two percussion, harp, strings, SATB choir

Texts by William Carlos Williams and Wallace Stevens

Also available for SATB Choir and piano. Inquire for more information.

El Hombre, composed for a holiday concert, is my version of sacred vocal music. Writing it was more like immaculate conception than composition—I had a draft sketched and orchestrated in about eight days—although in retrospect it was brewing in my head long before, ever since I read the four-line William Carlos Williams poem of the same name (El Hombre is “the man” in Spanish, but also a euphemism for God). The musical shape filled in when I read a companion poem by Williams’ close colleague, Wallace Stevens, titled Nuances on a Theme by Williams. I hope the music brings out the qualities I find so appealing in the text: its relevance, universality, clarity, and simplicity. I offer a special thanks to Fairfax Choral Society Music Director Douglas Mears, who made possible an uncommonly swift journey from concept to concert.

“Strange courage” is the heart of the text, and my piece. I even considered "Strange Courage" for a title, but I thought it was important to retain Williams’ oblique suggestion to look higher for an explanation. Williams’ “theme” appears three times in this short piece; I hope it is enough so that the words linger after even one hearing. Strange was the most difficult word to set, it needed to be both beautiful and unsettling. It appears each time with a tonal rub: the first and last time, the tenors hold an E against an insistent F in three octaves on the harp. For the second appearance, the women stack a C major triad over an F major triad in the men, doubled by quivering flutes and strings.

Stevens calls his stanzas “nuances on a theme,” not variations. A variation, in music or poetry, explores some surface aspect of a theme and develops it in a new way. The way I interpret Stevens’ “nuances” is that they are explorations beneath the surface. My setting seeks to match the contrasting colors of the two poets: Williams is bright and crystalline, Stevens is dark and swirling. The two stanzas of nuances offer an opportunity to traverse remote tonalities and rhythms, with soprano, alto and tenor soloists picking up the more obscure strains.

Mandala of the Two Realms

[2007] – for large orchestra with onstage martial artists – 19’

Honorable Mention, Minnesota Orchestra Composers Institute
Dedicated to Master Carolyn Campora and Mary Vaccaro of Nabi Su Martial Arts

This work is no longer available for performance.

Mandala of the Two Realms was inspired by my practice of Tai Chi Chuan, an ancient Chinese martial art. As I learned various Tai Chi forms, I was awed by how much power and structure were contained within the seemingly delicate and amorphous movements. As a composer, I spend much of my energy thinking about how best to distribute gestures across a span of time, and I could not help but admire in Tai Chi the perfection and elegance of the sequences that had evolved collectively across many generations. This composition became a quest to externalize in music my personal understanding of the flow and energy of Tai Chi.

As my work progressed on this piece, I realized that it was not really “about” Tai Chi. The music became a study in dualities: Eastern and Western, masculine and feminine, soft and hard, grounded and ethereal. At times I wrote music that followed every minute detail of the Tai Chi in lockstep, but other passages found the music straining away from the forms, blossoming into its own independent entity. The inherent synergy and conflict between music and movement led me to the title, Mandala of the Two Realms. In Hindu and Buddhist traditions, a mandala is a circular form representing a microcosm of the universe, and nearly identical symbols turn up in cultures as widespread as Celtic and Aztec. The Mandala of the Two Realms is a specific pairing of two mandalas from Buddhism, the Mandala of the Diamond Realm (the metaphysical) and the Mandala of the Womb Realm (the earthly). This symbol holds simultaneously the messages of universality and duality; I hope my music succeeds in communicating some of the same ideals.

Stride on my Mind

[2010] – for wind ensemble – 6’

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For wind ensemble consisting of piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 3 clarinets in B-flat, bass clarinet in B-flat, 2 alto saxophones, 2 tenor saxophones, baritone saxophone, 4 horns in F, 3 trumpets in B-flat, 2 trombones, bass trombone, euphonium, tuba, timpani, 3 percussionists, piano, double bass.

Stride on my Mind ruminates on the textures and techniques of stride piano as practiced by such greats as Art Tatum and “Fats” Waller. The music heads in directions far afield from the initial inspiration, but I did manage to sneak in quotes of a few of my favorite jazz standards.