Nuances de Noir (2022)

for flute, tenor saxophone, viola, and double bass

Nuances de Noir (2022) was written in response to a commission from the Telluride Chamber Music Association for a chamber music work for dance. The violist, Danny DeSantis, is an old friend from my early years with the Phoenix Symphony with whom I shared a passion for improvisation. We had performed and recorded improvisation together many times over the years.

The unusual instrumentation, especially the inclusion of tenor saxophone and double bass, gave the ensemble a rather French flavor.  It also seemed loaded with mellow instruments, which caused me to include alto flute in the mix.  When I started working on the piece, the sound suggested to me the French Noir films of the 1950’s and 60’s, especially the jazz-inspired film scores of Martial Solal for Jean Luc Godard.  

It then occurred to me that the atmosphere which triggered the Noir genre (the Cold War and threat of nuclear annihilation) was actually quite similar to today, albeit with a number of different threats (climate, pandemic, political extremism, and now a war of aggression!).  Indeed, the present threats are even more insidious, especially climate.  I began to see the present as different shades of “noir,” and the idea for the piece was born.

Most of the piece is lively and rather nervous and builds to a frantic climax, but the piece ends slowly with a rather sad flute melody.  The idea is that anxiety has its own dangers and can lead to life-changing decisions.  The work is about eleven minutes in length and was first performed on March 27, 2022, in Telluride, Colorado.

The Weaving Princess and the Cowherd

for solo double bass with narration

I happened to be in Japan several years ago during the month of July visiting my daughter in the town of what is now Midori about 50 miles outside of Tokyo. During the time I was there we attended the local Hoshi Matsuri or Star Festival. I was taken by the quaintness and sweetness of the event, and how in the USA we did not have any holiday which remotely approached a celebration of love. The festival is based on the ancient Chinese tale of the Weaving Princess and the Cowherd, two stars, who, though in love, are only allowed to meet once a year.

In 2020, I was preparing a program for a chamber music concert at a planetarium on the campus of Embry Riddle University in Prescott, Arizona. Since they asked for a solo piece, I thought of doing my Six Miniatures for solo double bass from my collection Three Pieces for Double Bass (1984), which I have performed several times. I thought that since the concert was about the stars, it would be fun to work the piece around the story of the Japanese Star Festival. Though the concert was eventually cancelled because of the CoronaVirus Pandemic, I had worked the six small pieces around the story and liked it very much!

I have included the text in the score so a bassist could narrate the story by himself, or it can, of course, be narrated by a separate narrator. I originally wrote the Six Miniatures as example pieces for a series of school concerts I did with a string orchestra from the Phoenix Symphony. Each of the principals would play a little excerpt of a minute or less to showcase their instrument. I, of course, took that as a compositional challenge. They are, fittingly, like little musical haiku, short but succinct and complete.

Because the original concert was cancelled, I thought it would be a good idea to perform the work on video. I am doing both the narration and playing the bass.


Seven Little Duets

for two double basses

These duets were written in the summer of 1991 while performing at a festival in Flagstaff, Arizona.  I had written a set of concert duets a few years before and wanted to write a set of duets more suitable to the studio or to be played among friends.  I had always enjoyed playing duets with my colleagues, teachers, and students, and wanted to add something to that repertoire.

All the duets are short and can be played from a single part.  Six of the seven are written in binary form with two sets of repeats.  One of the enjoyable things to do with binary duets is to change parts at the repeat, and these duets are constructed so the players can do that.

There is no real emotional plan for these pieces other than to contrast moods.  They are meant to be played for enjoyment. With only a couple of adaptations, they could also be performed by two cellos, or cello and double bass.

The score video below uses sampled sounds. The videos do not take any of the repeats.

Seven Little Duets are available from American Composers Edition at

Vision Quest (2002)

for double bass and piano

Vision Quest was written during the summer of 2002 as a work for myself to play.  I had not written a double bass work for several years, and I felt compelled to try to add a more serious work to the double bass solo repertoire.

Many of my works are taken from an improvisation to a greater or lesser degree.  This work was developed from a keyboard improvisation, however, it bears little resemblance to the original as the transformation has been extensive.  The original improvisation served as more of a springboard for the inspiration and the development of the piece.

The term “vision quest” is usually associated with Shamanism, and refers to a period of solitary fasting and chanting in the wilderness in search of a ‘defining” vision.  The work, however, is not particularly sectarian or partial to any particular religious tradition.  The work is meant to represent an ecstatic religious experience in a more abstract sense.  Neither is the music particularly Native American in character, though the ending “vision” section does bare a passing resemblance to the music associated with traditional Peyote ceremonies.

Vision Quest was awarded the David Walter Prize by the International Society of Bassists in their bi-annual composition contest for solo double bass.  It was premiered at the 2004 ISB Convention in Kalamazoo, MI, with Michael Cameron double bass, and Dianne Frazier Cross, piano.  For these videos, I am playing the double bass and Sherry Lenich is the pianist  in a performance at Pinnacle Presbyterian in Scottsdale in April, 2010.

The first movement, Ritual Incantation, portrays the period of singing, prayer, and meditation that begins the ritual.

After fasting and praying for a vision that will transform the subject’s spiritual identity, there is often a painful period in which the original identity is abandoned.  The second movement takes up this experience.

After the abandonment, the “empty vessel” invites a new spiritual presence to appear.  This is done with singing, dancing, and chanting ending in delirious rapture followed by the transforming vision.

Vision Quest (2002) is available from the American Composers Edition ( and may be ordered here

Sonata (1991)

for cello and piano

During the 1980’s, I developed a goal of writing sonatas or something similar for all the string instruments.  The Sonata for Cello and Piano was the last one I wrote, though I didn’t write serious multi-movement work for the double bass, oddly enough, until the 2000’s.

The Sonata for Cello and Piano is written in the Neo-Classical/Neo-Renaissance style that I used for most of the 1980’s.  It combines a spiraling expository process with more traditional forms.

The first movement is rather standard sonata form, complete with a repeat after the exposition.  The timing really needs the repeat, and I suggest taking it.  It is quite lyrical and delicate at times.

The second movement uses a modified binary form, but I have eliminated the traditional repeats.  The spiraling of the material is more obvious in this movement, especially in the first half, and it is more dramatic than the first movement.  The movement ends with a lyrical but dramatic mini-cadenza for the cello.  The third movement is effective when played attacca.

The-third movement is a spirited and virtuosic rondo.  It is rather equally balanced with busy solo passages for both the cello and piano.  The telescoping passage at the end brings it to a rousing conclusion.

The Sonata for Cello and Piano was first performed by Duo West, Ian Ginsberg, cello, and Sherry Lenich, piano, in Tempe, AZ in October of 2004.  They are the fine performers on these videos.

Sonata for Cello and Piano (1991) is available from American Composers Edition ( and may be ordered here.

Trio (1983)

for flute, viola, and piano

The Trio (1983) for flute, viola, and piano was written as a finale to a concert of new chamber music works I presented in March of 1983.  The other two premieres on that concert were the Viola Sonata (1982) and Short Set (1982) for flute and piano.

The work is one of the few traditional four-movement works I have written.    I wrote the whole concert as a single design.  The Viola Sonata has three sonata-like movements, and Short Set has three ABA song-like movements.  The Trio is a combination of the two, with the outer two movements being sonata-like and the inner two movements being song-like.  The first two movements are played attacca, and the last two movements are also played attacca, so the work is quite symmetrical.

The work has a festival or reunion feel to it.  The first movement is the arrival stage, as the peace and quiet is disturbed by the arrival of the guests.  My father’s family was very large and would stage family reunions every Thanksgiving at the local Grange Hall in Woodland, Washington, where upwards of a hundred people would gather.  The two inner movements are episodes, and the last movement is the finale which for us was Thanksgiving dinner.  I have several relatives whom I still only know from these events.

The first movement is titled Ingathering, which leads directly into the second movement, Waiting for the Sunrise.

The third movement is a quirky Scherzo, which keeps alternating between 2/4 and 3/4, and is followed by a hard-driving Finale.

Trio (1983) is available from American Composers Edition ( and may be ordered here.

Midsummer Night (1982)

for violin, marimba, and piano

Growing up in the USA, I didn’t know anyone who celebrated Midsummer Night.  I had studied the Shakespeare play in high school, but still didn’t think of the summer solstice as a holiday that people celebrated until the late 1970’s, when I went on an reading binge of the novels of Ursula Le Guin.  In her Earthsea series, there is a detailed description of the celebration of Midsummer Night, which included dancing until dawn.  All the holidays I had ever known were either religious or political and rather tedious, but this sounded like a holiday that I would actually enjoy celebrating! 

The trio, Midsummer Night, was written for a concert of new chamber works in 1982 in Scottsdale, AZ.  The work is in three lively movements. 

Jazz Dance does not refer to “swing” jazz so much as the Jazz Fusion that flourished in the 1970’s, which is more rhythmically derivative of Hard Rock with straight eighth notes. 

The second movement, Waltz, is a little more subdued, but slowly picks up the tempo to a point where the dance swings freely in one.  

The last movement, Tarantella, though not as fast as the original dance, is never-the-less fast enough!  The syncopation and counterpoint make it seem faster than it is.  The tempo never falters. and continues to drive forward to a wild almost Bacchanalian finish.  I have often performed the Tarantella separately, as it is a show piece all its own.piece all its own.

Midsummer Night is available from American Composers Edition ( and may be ordered here.

Brass Quintet (1979)

for 2 trumpets, horn, trombone, and tuba

The Brass Quintet (1979) was written for the Southwest Brass Quintet.  The ensemble was comprised of members of the Phoenix Symphony, and the work was first performed at Arizona State University in December of 1979. 

The work is the second in which I used transcribed keyboard improvisations as the basis for the composition.  The work uses a free-wheeling motivic technique based around a rather blues and jazz derived style.  

At the time, the brass quintet, as an ensemble, had not yet developed the light-hearted pops-oriented reputation brought on by such groups as the Canadian Brass, etc.  As such, I treated the instrumentation and music as I would any other piece of chamber music.  Though the style is based on some more popular elements, the music is more complex and intricate than one might expect.  More often than not the texture is contrapuntal and the work abounds in cross rhythms and syncopation. The work was written for professional level performers and is a sparkling show piece.

The first movement is a predominantly lyrical allegro movement that gradually builds into a driving climax. 

The second movement is an moderate tempo lyrical waltz. 

The last movement is a boisterous jig full of drive and good humor. 

Brass Quintet (1979) is available from American Composers Edition ( and may be ordered here.

The Unreal Dwelling

for unaccompanied violin

The morning that I received the call from Steven Moeckel in which he asked me to write a piece for unaccompanied violin, I had been reading from a collection of literary prose by Matsuo Basho, the famous Japanese haiku poet.  We were in the midst of the long shutdown for the Covid-19 pandemic.  Musicians were not working; whole symphony seasons had been cancelled.  We discussed the artistic (let alone financial) crisis the situation was creating.  He talked of having taken a trip to the Oregon coast and taken long walks through misty forests to facilitate some serious artistic soul searching.  He had formulated a plan for an unaccompanied recording and wanted to commission a new work for it. 

His talk of hermetic isolation in forests of the Pacific Northwest (where I grew up) seemed to fit into the mood of the material I was reading.  I decided start writing with a working title of Mists of the Unreal Dwelling.  The “unreal dwelling” was a hut Basho had lived and recuperated in after his famous ten-month journey to Northern Japan in 1690.  It was tucked away on a mountain slope behind an oft-neglected shrine overlooking Lake Biwa north of Kyoto.  The image seemed to convey both the isolation and reflection which brought the piece into existence.

As I wrote the piece, however, the fog lifted and the work became more extroverted and showy.  The “mists” were swept from the title, which became just The Unreal Dwelling.  Basho wrote more than one prose poem about the hut and his time there.  I was taken with how he wrote with affection of the hut’s disrepair and his own battered, road-weary body.  As he says, “Isn’t it true that there’s no place that is not an unreal dwelling?” His ideals of asceticism, however, were disturbed by his artistic vision and constant restlessness.  The music is indeed restless, and displays a fair amount of virtuosity.  The work was completed in August of 2020 in Phoenix.

Steven Moeckel is concertmaster of the Phoenix Symphony and Santa Fe Opera. He has performed as a soloist and chamber musician all over the world.  His upcoming album Sei Solo (from an inscription on the six solo sonatas of Bach which refers to the number six, but literally translates as “I am alone.”), features music of Bach, Ysaye, and Paganini, as well as The Unreal Dwelling.  The video below is an excerpt of a preview Steven did of his album for the video series, The Way Back Sessions.  There is a little intro before he plays the piece.

Vision By The Lake (1980)

for flute, viola, and harp

From 1981-84, I wrote and performed one concert of new original chamber music each season.  I would choose some colleagues with whom I wished to perform and then would write works using different combinations.  However, I never used the music I wrote for the first concert as it proved quite difficult both technically and logistically.  Three of the works, however, I later rescored for different combinations and circumstances, and they have been more successful.  Vision by the Lake (orig. Lullaby) was one of them.  The other two were Intermezzo (orig. Interlude) for double bass and piano (orig. harp), and Calypso Round (orig. for flute, horn, marimba, harp, and double bass) which I orchestrated in 2000.

Vision By The Lake was originally written for flute, horn, and harp.  I lay dormant until 1998, when it was suggested I rescore the horn part for viola so as to create more repertoire for the ensemble used by Debussy in his famous Sonata. The work is one of several works I wrote at the time which explored the intriguing structural dynamics presented by Minimalism.  I never was interested in the stylistics of Minimalism, but the idea of organizing music in structural layers I found fascinating.  

Originally, the gentle rocking of the music suggested a lullaby to me, but I think Vision By The Lake is a better title.  Though the gentle waves are rather hypnotic, there are events in the music which are more suggestive of mists and fleeting images common to lakes especially in the morning.  Some of the images might be rather less than friendly, but none of them I believe to be threatening.  

Vision By The Like is available from American Composers Edition ( and may be ordered here.