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.