String quartet Bootleg Sugar Lips was commissioned by choreographer Kathleen Dyer as part of the evening length dance work, A Complex Sum. I have a long-standing collaboration with Kathleen; we've created over ten dances together. In one of the beginning rehearsals of this latest work she had already starting setting new choreography to John Adams' string septet Shaker Loops. She had wanted the same gesture of the quivering strings in Adams' septet to be in my yet-to-be-composed piece. Sometimes Kathleen creates a dance phrase first and I'll try to match it musically. For this dance I had to come up with music that reflected the energy in Adams' work. Jokingly, I entitled the first sketches of the quartet "Bootleg Shaker Loops." Through a misunderstanding by the dancers the name morphed into "Bootleg Sugar Lips" and the absurdity of it was catchy enough for a permanent title.
For violin, viola, cello, and piano. The first thing that struck me about Mahler's Piano Quartet was the ambiguous opening rhythm. Listening to it for the first time without the score, I thought that the piece began in 6/8. The opening triplets sounded to me like a compound meter against which the left hand plays syncopated octaves. The polyrhythm created in the first few measures inspired me to use that kernel as a basis for a new piece. For the past few years I have been fascinated with rhythm and the different ways in which rhythm is perceived. Mahler's Piano Quartet was the perfect piece for me to explore the different relationships and interplay of those ideas. Mahler Remixed is formed by looping actual fragments from Mahler's quartet. Each time a loop appears, it is transformed through a changing rhythmic texture. Just like the original, Mahler Remixed opens with the solo piano. It continues in a sort of polyrhythmic conversation between the strings and piano.
Duration: 5 min.
Perspectives, for string quartet, unfolds slowly with the viola playing a descending two note motive. Pizzicato cello notes punctuate the ends of the viola’s part, as if responding to a musical question. I structured this piece to be a conversation between all four instruments. When the second violin enters, it presents a repetitive gesture that sounds as though it’s completing the viola’s musical thought. The first violin’s entrance is a sustained, quiet note that almost sneaks into the conversation. From there the first violin plays a low, repetitive eighth note melody that becomes the catalyst for the rest of Perspectives. The eighth notes turn into sixteenth notes and the melody is transformed into a fast, swirling gesture punctuated by accents in the low strings. Gradually the music unwinds and resembles the calm of the opening.
Duration: 7 min
From opens with a halting recitative between the viola and cello. The viola’s first eight notes represent a sighing gesture that forms the main motive of the piece. There is space between each utterance of the motive until it gradually builds momentum with all of the players joining in. It isn’t often that I use silence in my music, but this piece called for a reflective tone. The mood of From remains somber throughout, with a few bright spots provided by a climbing melody in the first violin. It was commissioned by KDNY Dance.
There are three distinct sections that make up Some Breaking, for string quartet. In the dance, a quartet finds itself lost in a forest of heartbreak where the magic of connection inspires the realization that some breaking is building. I wanted to represent that sense of desolation by a soaring, minor melody in the first violin. It is accompanied by mournful counter melodies in both the second violin and viola. The cello alternates between pizzicato notes and a legato descending line that echoes the music of the first violin. Section two of Some Breaking is almost all pizzicato. I wanted to create a pointillistic effect, so the melody is divided up between the players. The third section is contrastingly bright and rhythmically intricate. There are extended passages where the viola imitates the melodic lines of the cello before they eventually play the same music. The minor theme from section one is brought back at this new faster tempo representing the transformation that happens at the end of the dance.
Strung Along was commissioned by the New York Choreographic Institute. I was one of three composers chosen to collaborate with a choreographer on a new work for the New York City Ballet affiliated program. The piece is in three movements, each one developing a particular rhythm. The first movement opens with a funky cello solo. I drew inspiration from traditional American fiddle music which is most evident in this section. The second movement plays around with call-and-response between all four players. Each one takes a turn at having the melody while the accompaniment alternates between quick gestures and pizzicato. Movement three is my favorite. It opens will all four players in a unified rhythm that alternates between 6/8 and 3/4 time signatures. I composed Strung Along with an awareness to dance and the time that is needed for movement to unfold. Writing for dance has always been one of my favorite mediums, and I hope that joy of creation is apparent in this piece.
Duration: 12 min.