Instrumentation: orchestra (18.104.22.168–22.214.171.124–timp–strings)
Duration: ca. 11:00
Premiere: February 22, 2020 :: San Juan Symphony :: Thomas Heuser, conductor :: Henderson Performance Hall, Farmington, NM
something deeply hidden was commissioned by and written for Thomas Heuser and the San Juan Symphony Orchestra with the support of The Durango Herald Newspaper to honor Ludwig van Beethoven’s 250th Birthday. The title comes from a quote in Albert Einstein’s Autobiographical Notes: “…Something deeply hidden had to be behind things.” Music is a brief glimpse into our shared humanity, with all of its breathless beauty, all of its intense joy and deep sorrow, and all of its ugliness and violence too. In Beethoven’s work we get a glimpse of someone who felt especially deeply—a glimpse into a person whose passion and urgency and hope for what was possible in the world seemed to pour out of him like an endless fountain. One of my own first formative experiences with Classical music began with Beethoven, stumbling on to a dusty recording of his Fifth Symphony pulled from the discount bin of an electronics superstore that opened up a world of musical possibilities for me. In Beethoven’s Third Symphony, Eroica, the heroic opening often gives way to music of heartrending melancholy, most notably in the funeral march of the second movement, revealing a darker meaning beneath the bright surface. I see Albert Einstein’s pursuits in physics as related to Beethoven’s—a continual searching for something deeply hidden. For me, this piece is a parallel universe to Eroica—a musing that starts with some of the same musical material but takes it in a very different direction. The darker material of the funeral march opens the piece and is stretched and pulled, gradually revealing an even darker core that eventually churns and spins into light.
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[Performance above: Ava Ordman, trombone; Michigan Philharmonic; Nan Washburn, conductor]
Instrumentation: solo tenor trombone with orchestra (also with wind ensemble or piano reduction)
Duration: ca. 21:00
Orchestra Premiere: November 15, 2018 :: Ava Ordman and the Lansing Symphony Orchestra, Timothy Muffitt, conductor :: Wharton Center, East Lansing, MI
Wind Ensemble Premiere: March 22, 2018 :: Ava Ordman and the Michigan State University Wind Symphony, Kevin Sedatole, conductor :: Wharton Center, East Lansing, MI
I often wonder what it’s like to see the world through the eyes of my children. I have two sons, Declan and Izaak, and, at the time of writing this piece, they were ages two and four, respectively. The title, Their Eyes Are Fireflies, is a metaphor for the magic and joy they bring to my life. The light in their eyes—both the way in which they take in the world with wonder and amazement as well as the way they add light to the world with their innocence and joy—has shaped and changed my perspective in profound ways.
For Declan, at age two, there are so many beginnings, so many firsts, so many discoveries, and so many adventures. The first movement begins with an extended trombone cadenza in time, building from the foundations of the instrument into increasingly accelerating, ascending, and ecstatic waves and surrounded by distant echoes and a halo of dimly twinkling lights. These waves finally burst, revealing a distorted image of the beginning—cascading waves of sound that finally come crashing down like an overgrown tower of toy blocks.
The second movement, This song makes my heart not hurt, is for Izaak. One day he said this exact phrase, and its simplicity and directness stopped me in my tracks. For me, this very unadult-like turn of phrase contained something special—both a recognition and admission of pain but also a turning toward healing. This music is my humble meditation on Izaak’s words.
The third movement is entitled Izaak’s Control Panels. Izaak loves to draw and paint. One of Izaak’s favorite subjects has been ever more fantastical control panels. We have piles of these controls panels in our house, carefully created using pencils, pens, markers, and paint on sheets of paper of varying sizes and colors. These control panels are connected to airplanes, race cars, boats, helicopters, and even strange, imaginary machines that he’s created both in his imagination as well as with Legos. What’s more, the panels often contain gadgets and gauges for unusual and awesome purposes, including to measure the level of mint chocolate ice cream (his favorite flavor), chocolate milk, pasta, as well as typical things like speed, altitude, and fuel. This music comes from looking at the world through the creative and surreal lens of a four year old—motoric, machine-like music for building imaginary worlds is disrupted by the playful smashing, destruction, and recreation of those worlds, culminating in a spectacular and bizarre place where time flows backward, objects fall up rather than down, and airplanes come with milkshake gauges.
Commissioned by Ava Ordman and a consortium of trombonists, conductors, ensembles, and sponsors led by:
Kevin Sedatole and the Michigan State University Wind Symphony
Timothy Muffit and the Lansing Symphony Orchestra
Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra
Mark Williams and Grand Valley State University
Timothy Higgins, San Francisco Symphony
Jeremy Wilson, Vanderbilt University
Kenneth Tompkins, Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Michael Haithcock, David Jackson, and the University of Michigan Symphony Band
Nan Washburn and the Michigan Philharmonic
Robert Carnochan, Timothy Conner, and the University of Miami Wind Ensemble
Mallory Thompson and the Northwestern University Wind Ensemble
Rodney Dorsey, Henry Henniger, and the University of Oregon Wind Ensemble
Robert Lindahl, Central Michigan University
Steven Kandow, University of Saint Francis
Instrumentation: two sopranos (high and low) and chamber orchestra (fl.ob.cl.bsn–a sax.b sax–hn.tpt.tbn–synth–drum set–string quintet)
Duration: ca. 13:00
Premiere: June 2, 2017 :: Albany Symphony Orchestra Dogs of Desire and David Alan Miller :: EMPAC :: Troy, NY
Feed was commissioned by the Albany (NY) Symphony Orchestra, David Alan Miller, director.
The idea for Feed came to me after reading a book called The Shallows by Nicholas Carr. The Shallows is an examination of the intellectual and cultural impact of the Internet, ranging from broad cultural critique to scientific analysis of its effects on our daily interactions and cognitive abilities. Carr makes use of many anecdotes and quotations to illustrate his ideas, and I found several of them to be quite apt. In his Four Quartets, T.S. Eliot delves into the chaos and fragmented experience of the modern world, and his line “distracted from distraction by distraction” became the catalyst for my creative process in this piece. As an artist, my life is centered around creating. For me, the Internet, despite its incredible power as a tool for collaboration, connection, and creation, is first and foremost an infinite source of distraction. It is an information feeding trough, and, as such, through its extraordinary potential to crowd out the thoughts in my head, it is often antithetical to my life as a creator and to my attempt to live in the moment.
I think of Feed like a very short opera with one character played by two people. The high soprano is the main character, while the low soprano sings and speaks the thoughts inside her head.
- “Distracted from distraction by distraction.” –T.S. Eliot from Four Quartets
The text for this movement was taken entirely from my Facebook News Feed. I have removed all personal identifiers from the text for two reasons: to protect the identity of my online friends, but also, more importantly, to amplify that our interactions through this medium often become anonymous and superficial. I increasingly find it rare for my life on social media to feel real. There is a numbness that develops as I scroll, supposedly viewing or sharing some aspect of my life with thousands of people, some of whom are good friends and others that are merely virtual acquaintances. Furthermore, I have realized that my News Feed has become an eternal source of distraction. I rarely find myself bored anymore, forfeiting the opportunity to be in the moment—to be present, to observe, to listen, to daydream—at every turn—on the bus, at meals, in waiting rooms—for quick hits of screen-induced dopamine. The feeling can be numbing and depressing as I feel increasingly disconnected from things that are real; of course, it can also be jarring, disturbing, and completely overwhelming.
- “To be everywhere is to be nowhere.” –Seneca, 1st-century Roman philosopher, from Letters from a Stoic
The Internet offers me a window into a plethora of times, places, and spaces, and yet I am not actually in any of those places. Although Seneca was referring to life in a very different time and place, I find his idea to be perhaps truer than it has ever been: “to be everywhere is to be nowhere.”
Despite the strange disconnect between life online and reality, there many ways in which what happens in the online world is very real or can have very real consequences. This disconnect also changes my own perception of time—I think about how the many times that I have allowed hours to pass while mindlessly exploring cyberspace and only occasionally checking in with the present.
- Fall: Rewind: Still.
I find it paradoxical that the Internet has transformed my life in such profound and positive ways—I can connect with people, ideas, cultures, music, and art from around the world; I have instant access to an unprecedented amount of information; and, as a species, we can share and disseminate important, interesting, even live-saving, information, research, and technology instantly—and yet my interaction with this technology often leaves me feeling empty. The feeling is disorienting, even maddening, and I often wonder what I forfeit for this “progress.” One of my most pressing daily challenges has become finding silence and peace amidst this noise—to listen and to be still. The piece ends with the only intentionally coherent text in the piece, a setting of a short poem I wrote in response to one particularly poignant line in T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets: “The still point of the turning world.”
time moves slowly and quickly.
an eddy at river’s edge
nestled under shade of white alder
cloud strata swirling above open fields
as wind turns leaves upside down
stars move away as light moves toward
through this forward facing telescope of time
and here. here. the still point of the turning world.
Instrumentation: Orchestra (2(picc).2(eh).2(bass).2-126.96.36.199-timp-3 perc-pno-harp-strings)
Duration: ca. 7:00
Premiere: July 31, 2013 :: Cabrillo Festival Orchestra :: Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, Santa Cruz, CA
Strange, Beautiful Noises was written in the months preceding the birth of my son, Izaak. Along with the usual pre-parental anxiety, I found myself frequently imagining what it would be like to hear so many sounds for the very first time as he does, both through the watery walls of the womb and then suddenly without that warm, safe frequency filter. This piece was a gift to him and also a way for me to work through the anxiety of becoming a father for the first time. Nervous ticking, funk bass lines played by bass clarinet, rewind and reverse playback effects, a trombone solo imitating Charlie Brown’s teacher Mrs. Donovan, and many other noises make their way into this piece, eventually spiraling into a runaway train-like ending.
(website recording: Alarm Will Sound :: Alan Pierson, conductor)
Instrumentation: Chamber Orchestra (1.1.2(bs).1-188.8.131.52-2 perc.-pno-strings)
Duration: ca. 5:30
Premiere: July 17, 2011 :: Alarm Will Sound :: Alan Pierson, conductor :: Missouri Theater, Columbia, MO
Schism is about divisions. I wrote Schism in 2010 in the midst of the turbulent national mid-term elections, a time that, in the context of more recent political turmoil, actually seems quite tame. I was overwhelmingly frustrated by the sophomoric mud-slinging and ridiculous lies being told by many politicians and the variously allied media, but I was also somewhat amused by what was nothing short of a nationwide goat rodeo*. Much of the musical material is transcribed almost note for note from an improvisation I played on the piano and recorded in the early stages of sketching the piece. I remember being interested in combining the pointillism of Anton Webern’s music with a bluesy rock groove, so much of the piece is based on a single, simple, eighth note based, divided melodic line that jumps around the piano in very large leaps. I think of the musical affect as similar to the compound melodies in J.S. Bach’s Unaccompanied Cello Suites, where a single melodic line is perceptually transformed through large leaps into multiple voices, though, in the end, I used the ensemble to actually hold out the notes the piano could not to add color, character, and attitude to the independent voices. I also wanted to play with the notion of groove by dividing it in unusual and unexpected ways, almost like running a few of the licks and grooves through a meat grinder.
*A goat rodeo is a slang term for a chaotic situation, often one that involves several people, each with a different agenda/vision/perception of what’s going on; a situation that is very difficult, despite energy and efforts, in which to instill any sense or order.
Instrumentation: Full Orchestra (3(picc).3(eh).3(bass).3(cbsn)-184.108.40.206-timp-3 perc-pno-harp-strings)
Duration: ca. 9:00
Premiere: March 31, 2009 :: University of Michigan Symphony Orchestra :: Hill Auditorium, Ann Arbor, MI
The title for Dance the Dream Awake was taken from a lyric by jazz singer Kurt Elling, entitled Night Dream, from his 2001 album, Live In Chicago. Night Dream is a note–for–note transcription of the famous composition (and recorded performance) Night Dreamer by jazz saxophonist Wayne Shorter. Elling sings his impressive homage to Shorter, acrobatically and elegantly weaving his lyrics together with Shorter’s dazzling melodies. I chose to use this lyric as a launching point for my own work, which is, in a way, also an homage to the numerous jazz artists and to the music of film noir that have inspired me and my work as a composer.