Instrumentation: clarinet and piano
Duration: ca. 15:00
Premiere: March 4, 2017 :: David Cook and Emily Grabinski :: Wichita State University School of Music :: Wichita, KS
Synchronicity was commissioned by David Cook and a consortium of clarinetists and sponsors. Synchonicity is the simultaneous occurrence of events that appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection. Each of the three movements looks at synchronicity through a different lens. The first movement, Brainstorm, was conceived as an improvisation between the clarinet and piano, and, in fact, my compositional process was centered on improvising and then transcribing much of the musical material for this movement. The music feels like a musical conversation between the clarinet and the piano where ideas are stated and then bounced back and forth. There are moments when the conversation coalesces around a single idea, but much of it also feels impromptu, like two people discovering the ways in which their ideas are connected.
The second movement, Quiet, is an homage to Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto and is dedicated to my friend Jonathan Ovalle. Berg’s Concerto was dedicated to Manon Gropius, daughter of Alma Mahler (once Gustav Mahler’s wife) and Walter Gropius, who died of polio at the age of 18. Berg’s dedication reads: “To the memory of an angel.” Quiet borrows two musical ideas from Berg’s work, namely an ascending fifths pattern and, like Berg, who quotes J.S. Bach’s chorale Es ist genug (It Is Enough), a highly distorted version of the Christian hymn Abide With Me. These small hymn fragments are displaced both horizontally and vertically, as if time has slowly torn apart a fading old memory of the hymn. I do not know Jonathan Ovalle particularly well—he is a professor of percussion at my alma mater—but I am connected to him through social media. I originally conceived of this piece for solo vibraphone as a gift for Jonathan, whose wife, Lisa, was battling cancer at the time I began writing. Jonathan bravely shared many of his thoughts and emotions during her last months, and I was deeply moved by his courage, strength, and willingness to be vulnerable in a time of great sadness. My intention was to write a short and simple piece that he could play to either reflect upon or escape from the world around him—to find silence and stillness through music at a time when his life must have felt anything but quiet; however, as I dug deeper into this material and into my emotional response to Jonathan’s circumstances, I realized that this was not for vibraphone and it was not particularly short and simple either: this music needed to be for piano and some sort of wind or string instrument that could sustain these long melodic lines. I began writing a longer and more intense piece—connected to the Berg Concerto—and, coincidentally, I decided to score it for clarinet just a few days before Jonathan shared that Lisa had actually been a clarinetist. This music is for Jonathan and Lisa.
The third movement began to take shape in the summer of 2016 around the time that the United Kingdom surprisingly voted to leave the European Union in a decision known as Brexit. Muster Point is the British term for a designated place or area where a group of people assemble in case of an emergency in preparation for exiting a space. The Brexit referendum was the result of a growing populist and isolationist movement in Europe, and the vote occurred just a few months before the United States Presidential election in November, when Donald J. Trump was elected. Trump was also seen as a populist and, in some ways, an isolationist, and both votes were largely driven by a populace that, among other things, was feeling discontent, left behind, fearful, and angry. In the wake of these ballot results and continuing from a highly contentious and fraught pre-election/voting cycle, people on both sides felt disillusionment and uncertainty, fear and anger, as well as vindication and jubilation. This music comes from part of my own personal response to these political events and is at times angry and energetic, absurd and wild, and at other times swirling with quiet anxiety and tension.