Quintet for Winds
Instrumentation: Wind Quintet-flute, oboe, clarinet, french horn, basoon
Duration: 12 Minutes
Premiered by New York Philharmonic on the Merkin Chamber Series, Joseph Pereira, conductor on January 5, 2004
Commissioned by New York Philharmonic
I. Prelude: Quasi una voce
II. Arabèsque (Homage á Jacob Druckman)
III. Fanfare for Phil
IV. Theme and Variations
“My first impulse to write this piece was connected to its last movement, the “Theme and Variations”. My original conception stemmed from the idea that all human languages can be reduced to variations on the same theme. One theory by Noam Chomsky suggests that, ‘each possible human language is a setting of “switches” which are options waiting to be determined by experience.’ With the disparate colors of the woodwind quintet in mind, I wanted to investigate a similar situation musically. Instead of a developed melody, typical of a theme and variations, the ‘theme’ would be the characteristic sound and/or gestural nature of each instrument. The main voice would dictate all of the features of each variation while the rest of the ensemble would confirm to its elements. For example, in the bassoon variation, all instruments take on the characteristics of that instrument by playing with a dry ‘reedy’ sound and pointed attacks, while compensating for the transparent tone of the upper register. Similarly in the clarinet variation, the instruments amplify the extreme dynamic range and agility of the clarinet.
“After completing that movement, I soon then composed two more: the “Arabèsque (homage á Jacob Druckman)” and “Fanfare for Misty.” The former, in which there is a lot of freedom for the performers, is named for the late composer, but there are no direct quotations of his music; the title refers more to the treatment of 12 chords which are constantly smeared by a series of fast grace notes similar to Druckman’s expressive style. The “Fanfare for Phil” was written for Phil Myers, who at the time, was my colleague and friend at the NY Philharmonic, and who’s idea it was to program this piece.
“At this point I was stuck on the order of the movements and how this would eventually affect the form of the piece. After all, the ‘Theme and Variations’ is the main section of the piece from which all other material derives. Around this time of confusion, I visited the Sistine Chapel in Rome for the second time. I was reminded of the many long hallways and other exhibits you had to endure before finally reaching Michaelangelo’s spectacular frescos in the chapel. Or the enormous and detailed Baroque sculptures of Bernini, which I had to stare at for a while before noticing every elaborate detail. There was always a sense of restraint and focus, with a glimpse of what was to come.
“Soon after my return home I decided that my experience was a plan for the piece, and wanted three short movements to balance the larger finale. I immediately wrote the ‘Prelude: Quasi una voce.’ This short opener has no traditional counterpoint in it — all the musicians plays in the same register, passing a single melodic line between them.
“Now the piece was finally complete, with the three shorter movements acting as pointillist views of the quintet’s possibilities, and the last movement putting everything into perspective.”