I arrived at the primary ideas of Loam after reading a set of collected essays by author Wendell Berry called Our Only World. Berry has been a touchstone for me in recent years and his writing on conservation, agrarianism, and the natural world has profoundly influenced my work as a composer. Loam is perhaps the best example of this influence out of all of my compositions. “Loam,” by definition, is simply fertile soil. Much of the concerto is texture-based in order to convey the idea of loam, or soil, literally. My intent was for some parts of the music to even reflect the “sound” of the earth is being tilled, and this is represented most notably at the very beginning of the work with the interplay between the tuba and piano, and again throughout Movement 3.
Other musical themes present throughout the concerto are the idea of “augmenting” the sound of the tuba with the percussion ensemble. This happens as simply as by matching pitch (i.e., the tuba will play a note or melody and it is echoed in the keyboard percussion), but also happens in more complex ways related to musical texture and gesture, or sound in general. I often imagine this “augmentation” of the solo material as growing out like tree branches or a root system.
The general arc of the work is cyclical, a metaphor for the cycle of life or, more specifically, being born from the earth and returning to the earth upon death. There is a duality throughout the concerto between reality and “unreality,” which is often represented by the switching between low-pitched sounds/textures and high-pitched ones. In other words, lower-sounding music metaphorically represents something being grounded (life), and higher-sounding music is more dream-like (afterlife).
Loam was commissioned by Robert McCormick and the McCormick Percussion Group, and was premiered in November 2017 by the Group and tuba soloist Joseph Alvarez.
— Tyler Kline
Double Concerto for Tuba, Zheng and Percussion Orchestra
Double Concerto for Tuba, Zheng and Percussion Orchestra is funded by the Taiwan National Culture and Arts Foundation. It is a unique combination, inspired by the performers Haiqiong Deng, Jay Hunsberger, Robert McCormick, and the McCormick Percussion Group. The piece was indeed a fun challenge to compose for such an orchestration that has never been done before. The entire piece has three movements:
- Movement I layers between the instruments, to unify the sense of color, timbre, and gesture.
- Movement II mainly focuses on the tuba and zheng in a slower path. It imitates the Taiwanese Hakka mountain-singing of call and response between two lovers.
- Movement III is in conclusion, combing the tuba, zheng, and percussion in a perfect balance. It also humorously turns the tuba and zheng into unpitched percussion instruments. — Chihchun Chi-sun Lee
Stamina, for percussion quartet and horn soloist, is an expression of forgiveness. In the aftermath of tragedy, the piece is a devotion to transcending adverse circumstances to become a better person. This concept is expressed in three stages: Fracture, Rehabilitation, and Capacity. The first stage, “Fracture,” sees destruction in every element of the music: a 12-note aggregate slowly divides into two hexachords, the performers on either side of the ensemble stop performing together, and the performers use techniques with extreme tension before the final break at the end. “Rehabilitation,” the middle stage, strings together the previously fractured pitch material in a new way through the use of glissandos. The final stage, “Capacity,” uses this new pitch organization to “fill” the space with notes. The previously-used instruments of indeterminate pitch are abandoned (for the latter part of this stage) in favor of the pitch clarity provided by keyboards. Throughout the work, the music that the accompanists play transitions from representing an exterior to representing an interior. These parts begin as “external circumstances” surrounding the soloist’s melodic material (the instruments of indeterminate pitch being characteristically different from the horn’s definite pitch). Slowly, this environment becomes subsumed into the identity of the soloist, and the accompanists express the music’s interior. — Michael Standard
In Pursuit of GhostS
In Pursuit of Ghosts is an exploration of self and former selves. As we move from one chapter of life to the next, we often reassess what defines us as a person, what we are passionate about, and from what we derive happiness, joy, and purpose. Through the structure of a concerto, Pursuit looks back on three specters: former versions of others and self that feel a lifetime ago and have moved on from existing in this plane. “Heartland” explores my youth growing up in the Midwest, replete with nods to marching band music and organized religion. “Cat’s Cradle” takes a difficult look at a point in my life that would indelibly alter my projection as a musician, friend, and father: the attempted suicide of my father. The movement features several quotes from my Les Rêves Nocturne (2008), the first piece I wrote following the suicide attempt— and my last work for large percussion ensemble. Lastly, “Spirits” questions what we may be able to hold onto when loved ones have left us (especially those who have left unexpectedly soon) and remember with joy the memories we retain after they have left. The work is dedicated to composer David Macbride, a staunch supporter of percussion music, former teacher/mentor, and outstanding human who unexpectedly passed away the week the work was completed.
In Pursuit of Ghosts was commissioned by Robert McCormick and the McCormick Percussion Group in August 2018 and premiered with soloist Joseph Alvarez in November 2018. — Matthew Kennedy
Zusammenflusses (Confluence) was commissioned by the National Theatre Concert Hall of Taiwan and premiered by Min-Chin Kao on zheng and Esan Chen on percussion in 2013. The work brings together differences and similarities of the zheng with vibraphone and cymbal. Zusammenflusses alternates with slow and fast sections and requires several uncharacteristic sounds with bowed and bent notes on the vibes matching the qualities of the zheng and vice-versa. — Chihchun Chi-sun Lee
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