THIS LIVING AIR (2015) – The title, “this living air”, as well as the movement subtitles, are drawn from a cycle of poems by Garrett Brown titled "Manna Sifting." A particular object or mythical figure narrates each of the poems in Manna Sifting, giving each the “perspective” of something inanimate: the window, tomatoes, a river, or Michelangelo, as examples. Each of these is a lens through which the poet sees himself as he searches for the transcendental in the objects, places, and names around him. The last line of the cycle is the title of this piece:
“Who can comprehend
garlic’s smell, the sizzle
of onion in olive oil,
the fragrant green of basil?
These are the days of veneration, drop
to your knees and drink this living air.”
While the music is not knowingly inspired by or otherwise based on the poems, the poetry helps me articulate a metaphor for the music I’ve created. As a composer, I often seek musical situations where contradictory aesthetics ideas can coexist: nuance with overtness, logic with strangeness, spontaneity with structural purpose, and levity with depth and sincerity. To achieve this, I attempt to interpret the elements of a composition as they evolve, allowing the music to “suggest” itself; the objects of a composition, in a sense, are the lenses through which the composition can reveal itself to the composer. Perhaps this is evident in the opening of This Living Air, as a lyrical yet ambiguous melodic line emerges from and counterpoints the dry, pointillistic texture.
This Living Air was commissioned and premiered by Robert McCormick and the McCormick Percussion Group with pianist Eunmi Ko. The work is dedicated to Eunmi, with great admiration for a long-time collaborator and friend.
– John Liberatore
PUNG-KYUNG (2016) has several meanings in Korean language. Two of its meanings were used as my inspiration: ‘scenery’ and ‘wind chime’. By adopting the two different meanings, one for visual image and the other for sonic sensation, the piece creates an atmosphere which invites the audience to take an imaginary tour of an undisclosed countryside
My harmonic language and melodic components are not directly related to those of Korean traditional music, however, I have incorporated repetitive yet unpredictable rhythmic patterns of Korean traditional music in this piece. In addition to the noticeable patterns of repeated rhythms, various timbral combinations generated by percussion instruments and piano are developed and explored.
– Seunghee Lee
SOLSTICE (2013) was commissioned by the Ricochet Duo to honor Adirondack woodswoman, Anne LaBastille. LaBastille’s four woodswomen books are the direct inspiration for the composition. The title, Solstice, comes from book IIII/p.19 (“the sense of full circle”). The “full circle” of the piece, from Breakup (“prelude to spring” I/p.146) to Freeze-up (“prelude to winter” I/p.1), is as follows:
Breakup “imperceptible dissolution”
I. WHITE PINES “this strange attunement”
II. LILYPAD LAKE “Sainte Terre - my holy land”
III. KESTREL “flying into the wind”
Freeze-up “icy slivers and darts”
– Hilary Tann
DARK PARADISE (2016) consists of thirteen sections that either subtly or drastically reinterpret the work’s thematic material. Some sections form larger groupings that repeat though never in the same way. The piano is the central agent developing the music ideas trying to lead the ensemble, but the ensemble sometimes yields and sometimes resists asserting its own dominance forcing the piano to react more than lead. The celesta assumes the role of the piano’s alter ego, so it actually introduces the main pitch thematic material before the piano. The piano, in its attempts to influence the ensemble, often assumes the identity of ensemble. For example, the work begins with the pianist playing a claves solo that introduces the work’s rhythmic foundation, and at crucial moments in the drama, the pianist also plays crotales. Imagine the pianist as an astronaut traveling to the newly discovered earth-like planet orbiting Proxima Centauri, the star closest to our sun only 4.2 light years from earth. The work’s title evokes a trip to an alien world that is simultaneously enticing but fills one with anxiety, stable and unstable, familiar and unfamiliar, and perhaps darker than earth.
– Ciro Scotto
KID STUFF: FIVE FIGMENTS FOR PIANO AND PERCUSSION (2015-17) is a collection of five compositions written for and dedicated to Eunmi Ko, Robert McCormick and the McCormick Percussion Group. The pieces are from and about childhood.
A CHIMERA is a mythical beast built from the parts of three animals (usually lion, goat, and serpent). I vividly remember their appearance in the bestiaries of video games I was fond of in my tweens. “Chimera” has also come to mean something wished for that can only be achieved in the imagination, or in dreams. My piece involves elements from each shade of meaning. It is a fantasia in three parts, grafted onto each other without transition: the first is breakneck loud music; the middle is softer with virtuosic but lyrical passages in the piano interspersed with ostinati in the percussion; the final is structured cacophony with piano and ensemble both shifting tempo independent of one another underneath occasional extroverted outbursts from everyone. All this music employs piano and percussion techniques not always traditionally suited to the instruments, which creates an “imaginary” sound world where everyone pushes against- and in places probably exceeds-the limits of physical possibility. The musical ideas are often inchoate and fleeting, disappearing just before they are apprehended.
I composed NIGHT OWL very slowly over the course of six months while my twin daughters were infants, a time when I was spending a great deal of time awake at night, listening. Having grown up a block from a busy interstate amid factories, truck stops and a rail yard, I do not associate nighttime with quiet, but rather with secret, ominous sounds that occur intermittently over the constant hum of machinery and traffic. The music of Night Owl therefore might be surprisingly clangorous in places. The piano opens with an ascending series of chords, an idea which it develops obsessively over the course of the piece as though it’s keeping night watch and struggling to stay alert and responsive.
In movement 3, I am thinking of two usages of QUENCH: to quench thirst, and to quench fire. When used figuratively about oneself, these senses can be used to refer to “alleviation” and “repression,” respectively. This movement is about seeking fulfillment in an otherwise stifling environment, and pulls personally from finding solace in music and mathematics during a bout of depression stemming from bullying in adolescence. I’ve used a few “found object” sounds, most of which I associate with that time of my life, or other times of relief from depression; a melody that recurs at the end of each section is one I woke up from a dream humming one morning during a particularly difficult time.
CUDDLEYS - my twin daughters were born prematurely after a dangerous pregnancy, but they pulled through marvelously. My wife and I sometimes call them our “Cuddlies.” A year after they were born I came upon a passage very early in James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, which describes a time of great chaos and confusion, and in the midst of that comes the line, “What chance cuddleys...” as if to ask, “what chance would cuddleys have surrounded by all this danger?” I now spell our girls’ collective name as “Cuddleys,” in order to say “just look at what they did with their chance!” This movement quotes heavily from Chopin’s Berceuse in D♭ major (transposed to G major here), a piece we listened to with them quite often. It depicts some of the confusion that babies must feel when confronted with thousands of new stimuli; this movement ends with the babies falling asleep long before the end of Berceuse.
GOOFBALL has the impulsive character of a child who is showing off after staying up past bedtime, moving from thing to thing and never settling down. The opening motive in the piano’s lowest register permeates the entire virtuosic movement. The first section ends with a brief pause after a quote from Thelonious Monk’s composition Four In One, which involves a subtle transformation of the opening motive. One by one the percussionists move to instruments played with hands as though looking for any surface to drum on to get their energy out, playing snippets of rhythms from video-game music I remember from childhood. Meanwhile the pianist plays two passages of erratically accented runs and rhythms. The first of these passages, accompanied by xylophone, quotes the popular 1920s song A Cup of Coffee, a Sandwich, and You in the accented pitches. This song was used ubiquitously in Looney Tunes cartoons, and like the Monk tune it prominently features a transformation of the opening motive. After a section of rhythmic unison, there is a short reprise of the opening music, which becomes increasingly repetitive and raucous before tiring out completely.
– Matt Barber
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