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 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 (composers.com) and may be ordered here.
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 (composers.com) and may be ordered here.
With lots of time on my hands, I have been surfing YouTube for solo improvisers who provide moving performances that speak to our present lives in isolation.Today I am sharing two of them, Derek Charke and George Grant.
Flutist and composer Derek Charke teaches composition at Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia.His flute and bass flute improvisations are inventive, very well sculpted and full of things that I didn’t know the flute could do.His improvs are full of alternate and unusual fingerings, and embouchure tricks.He also has his flutes constructed with open holes to accommodate easier pitch bending.His bass flute work is particularly fascinating. I have never seen a bass flute live! He apparently is equipped with a pair of iron lungs, as well.
He has collected his recent improvs into one large video, which I have linked to below so you can binge listen like I did.I was transfixed for about 45 minutes.Enjoy!
George Grant is a Professor of Music Therapy at Utah State University. He specializes in vocal toning and throat singing.He is no slouch on the hand drum either.His music is something altogether different from that of Derek Charke.As a music therapist, he emphasizes the healing and meditative aspects in his music.The things he does with his voice in this improvisation are not easy, and they are presented with a real emotional honesty. I love the simplicity of this music. One of my composition teachers told me that it seemed to him that the most spiritual music was often extraordinarily simple. I think he was right.