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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.

Strange Seasons

[2017] – concerto for electric theorbo – 32’

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Strange Seasons in the press:
Review of Strange Seasons in The Sun Break
Preview of Strange Seasons in The Seattle Times
Preview of Strange Seasons in The Seattle Weekly

Commissioned by The Seattle Baroque Orchestra
World Premiere: November 11, 2017 at Benaroya Hall in Seattle, WA

View program notes and accompanying sonnets
Listen to excerpts

Strange Seasons

My obsession with the theorbo began in 2002, at a production of Monteverdi’s opera L’Orfeo at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Coming from a background as a jazz guitarist, I knew next to nothing about early music, but I drooled over that deeply resonant lute with the ungainly neck poking out of the orchestra pit. I recognized the theorbo as the ideal vehicle for accompanying singers, a form of music-making that transcends any time period or genre, and one that has always been close to my heart.

A decade later, not long after I moved to Seattle, I began a quixotic undertaking: to design and build an electric theorbo that would combine the best of the original instrument (including the tuning of its fourteen strings) with the sonic palette and versatility of the electric guitar. At that time I also composed Old-Fashioned Love Songs, an evening-length song cycle with countertenor that I performed in 2014.

In that debut project, the electric theorbo acted as a colorful accompanist, in the spirit of a true theorbo. As I began plotting another major composition, I tacked the other direction and thought about how to defy the theorbo’s traditional role, taking full advantage of the electromagnetic pickups routed through tone-altering effects pedals and punchy amplification. It struck me that I should write a concerto—the ultimate showcase for star power—and I realized that I could make the spotlight even brighter by handing off my instrument to a world-class virtuoso: Seattle’s own John Lenti, my friend and theorbo idol.

Taking a page from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, I wrote descriptive sonnets that would shape the musical flow of my four movements. I even consulted with longtime TV meteorologist Jeff Renner to give my impressions of Seattle weather a scientific grounding. The result is Strange Seasons, the first-ever concerto for electric theorbo and a love letter to my adopted home city.

The cycle begins in autumn with Pineapple Express, representing that fearsome type of storm that blows in from Hawaii to shatter the calm of late summer. Winter brings the persistent feeling of Gray, Gray, Gray, Emerald Blues, punctuated by a sense of restless agitation and the need for escape. Spring is a study of rapid change, centering on the Sun Breaks that pierce through fast-moving clouds. Summer is pure Paradise, a time for outdoor adventures, lively city streets, and the benevolent glow of Mount Rainier in the distance. 

I am deeply grateful to Alex Weimann and Gus Denhard for taking a chance on this dream project, and I am honored to become the first living composer to be premiered by the Seattle Baroque Orchestra. I must also thank John Lenti and Linda Melsted for their invaluable input and artistry. Strange Seasons is dedicated to my wife, Jen, and to our son, who is due to make his own world premiere two weeks before this concerto.

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.