A Classic Happy Birthday
(premiere: New York Philharmonic, Michael Adelson, 2006)
4th Box of Maps (2007
The idea for 4th Box of Maps first occurred to me while in Venice. The Basilica of San Marco is the obvious Venetian destination for a musician, and indeed it was inspiring to stand where Willaert and Gabrieli made their polychoral music over four centuries ago. I’m sure that reawakened my interest in site-specific antiphonal music.
More important to me, however, were certain things I noticed while wandering in that great labyrinth of a city. First, all Venice city maps are necessarily incomplete: The maze of streets and canals is too dense to show everything. To preserve legibility, a map must leave things out – sometimes up to a third of the streets in the city. Each map omits different streets, however, so you often find yourself in a place that doesn’t seem to exist, until you check another map. The implication is that there is a Platonic ideal of Venice, of which you can only catch glimpses. In addition, the topological changes around each corner (wide streets to narrow alleys, open piazza to confined courtyard, stone to water) produce changes in the ambient sound of the city. This is yet another, more subtle map, invisible but audible. As a result of all this, I had a curious sense of being simultaneously in several cities, all very similar but no two identical. Also, I became intensely aware that I was creating my own map – the map of my own journey, my own experience as I turned left instead of right, looked here but not there, or retraced my steps at a different time of day.
Venice changed my sense of place. I realized that every space and every time implies many maps, some not at all obvious. When I began to explore the Sanctuary of the Broadway Presbyterian Church, I found the variety of visual and acoustic perspectives highly suggestive. Though a concert is a communal event, each concertgoer creates his or her own map of their journey, listening from different vantage points, concentrating on different elements, experiencing different parts of the physical space, directing their attention to different people in the audience or onstage, and letting their mind wander at different times to different places.
Finally, I took inspiration from a short poem by Erica Jablon. In just a few lines, she touches so many of these ideas:
Pillars of leaves circle the rustling garden
White, they remember the moon’s theater
Remember the white stones
And the dark pool
The imagery evokes a particular place and time. But below the surface, the poem’s rhythm, internal correspondences, repetitions and almost-repetitions open up a complex and ambiguous world: maps within maps.
(premiere: Broadway Bach Ensemble, Michael Adelson, 2007)
Terminus (In Memoriam Stanislaw Lem)
This work explores issues of scale. I have always been fascinated by the very large, the very small, and most of all by the sensory experiences induced by placing oneself in such situations. Standing in front of a mountain feels very different from standing in front of a bookcase. The difference is not only visual: suddenly our kinesthetic and proprioceptive senses are brought into play.
Scale has to do with the interrelation of parts, and is different from size. A work can be very large and at the same time of an intimate scale. Joyce's "Ulysses" would be a classic example: it is a long book, but its component parts work together on a level commensurate with the whole. Conversely, Beckett's "Imagination Dead Imagine" — a full novel of four pages — exhibits a tremendous scale. Another example would be the sculptures Giacometti created between 1935 and 1945. These were small enough to be carried inside a matchbox. (I believe it was Casimiro Di Crescenzo who coined the term "intimate immensity" to describe them.) Both Beckett's and Giacometti's work impart a sense of vastness that borders on the vertiginous.
In music, the problem of scale is directly connected with the problems of sound, movement, and above all, time. Henri Michaux wrote, "Together, all these movements, actual or potential, occupy psychic space. Into this space you can enter."
The title Terminus is that of a short story by the great Polish writer Stanisław Lem. Lem's writings have given me much food for thought over the years, and Terminus is especially potent.
Certain aspects of the story suggested metaphors that sparked the process of composition. However, my work is in no way an attempt to translate Lem's text into music. (I don't believe such a thing is possible, in any case.) As Beckett said, "No symbols where none intended". The one exception is the end: the final two minutes of music contain references that will be apparent to any reader of Lem's haunting tale.
(premiere: Broadway Bach Ensemble, Michael Adelson, 2008)
The Paintings Look At Us
Diverse Cartographies of 136
(premiere: Nyack High School Chamber Orchestra, Christine Gero, 2012)
Five Rilke Fragments
(premiere: Jonathan Tortolano, cello; William Tortolano, speaker, 2005)
(premiere: Weintraub Trio, 2005)