Aljira (1995) for orchestra
Aljira is the aboriginal word for "land of no time." This work is a journey through a slowly changing landscape marked by discrete "sound objects" which appear and reappear, like farmhouses and cornfields, in a ride through the countryside. At the end of the trip, the landscape has undergone subtle transformations and we find ourselves simultaneously someplace else and at the same place as where we started.
Aljira was commissioned by the ASCAP Foundation and the Oregon Symphony.
And blue sparks burn (2002) for violin and piano
And blue sparks burn was commissioned by Friends of Today's Music of the Music Teachers' Association of California for premiere at the 2002 MTAC Convention.
The work was conceived in October of 2001, soon after the tragic events of September 11, 2001, in New York City and Washington, D.C. While the nation was mourning the tremendous and senseless loss of lives, I was haunted by the images of dust and eerie calm that permeated the news coverage in the aftermath of the disaster. This is my personal response.
Between you (1992) for orchestra
" ... good orchestral music is continually changing in the arrangement of the instruments, and often in the type of texture as well." -- W. Piston in Orchestration.
Whether goaded by textbooks spewing conventional wisdom or inspired by my natural propensity for not heeding advice, I began composing this work with a set of notions that seemed opposed to the traditional ideals of orchestral music. Despite the availability of an orchestra's large instrumental forces and the temptation to write yet another "concerto for orchestra", I sought an intimate rather than virtuosic expression -- an expression devoid of heroic climaxes and dramatic turns, an expression that mirrored the subtle changes and nuances that pervade our daily lives. Our days are neither continually filled by cataclysmic nor ecstatic moments after all. They envelop us and we must search for the beauty that exists in the everyday situations we encounter. I wanted the listener to perceive the musical events I had placed in the temporal landscape as though s/he were taking in the view on a Sunday drive. Events happen in succession, yet the enjoyment of the journey itself, with its changing scenery, is the foremost concern rather than the arrival at one's ultimate destination. In creating distinct musical materials that interact within this time canvas, the timbral colour of the instruments and their registral placement are considered an intrinsic part of their identity. "Fields" of colour in this work play a role similar to those in the colour-field paintings of the Abstract Expressionist Mark Rothko. Interest is generated by the nuance of colour within each field, and by the interaction and juxtaposition of different-coloured fields. Since timbre is in itself an integral part of the subject matter in music of this kind, Mr. Piston's advice on orchestration could not be heeded.
This one-movement work consists of three continuous sections, each subdivided into similar halves. Lines, clusters, and interlocking parts form the basis of the work's entire musical material. Between you was commissioned by the Vancouver New Music Society and the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra with financial assistance from the Canada Council.
Changes (1990) for flute, oboe, clarinet, percussion, piano, violin, cello, amplified contrabass
Commissioned by the Vancouver New Music Society, Changes was composed in the summer of 1990. It was my first commission and I was encouraged that Owen Underhill and the VNMS was showing such faith in me, after having presented my first professional performance the previous year.
Early that summer, I was invited to Sapporo, Japan, for a gathering of composers from the Pacific Rim countries. The experience of being in the company of many composers whom I admired and respected, and hearing gagaku, an ancient Japanese court music, for the first time had a profound effect upon me. The opening movement owes a great debt to this mystical music.
A reviewer who attended the premiere in October of 1990 described this set of five eclectic miniatures as "continually oppos[ing] fixed rhythms against liquid ones, hard timbres against soft," noting a "compressed style of utterance." The first, third and fifth movements are related as are the second and fourth. Whereas the first piece introduces the instruments as component parts of a musical whole, the scenario is transformed through the set of pieces to that of a whole music embodied by one part.
Although I didn't know it at the time, Changes would have a tremendous impact upon my later work. I look back fondly now on the piece as representing a significant "coming together" in my compositional aesthetic.
Come as you are (2000) for pipa and nine instruments [fl, cl, hrn, tpt, trb, perc, 3 vln or 2 vln and vla]
Come as you are was commissioned by the Société de Musique Contemporaine du Québec, with financial assistance from the Canada Council. This work urges each performer to "Come as you are," with parts that highlight the unique qualities of their respective instruments. I have stripped the work to its stark essentials. Materials evolve, but in static tableaux enveloped by silence.
Common Ground (1993) for orchestra
Commissioned by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra for performance at their 1994 New Music Festival, Common Ground is a loud, hyper-kinetic fanfare, full of boisterous "sound objects" that jostle for attention and elbow for "air time." In using materials that sound, in turn, primal and urbane, I aimed to create a musical quilt, a patchwork of inviolable musical entities whose diverse natures would be united, and by juxtaposition, strengthened, in a single, integrated whole.
Foreign Affairs (1994) for fifteen instruments
Much of Foreign Affairs is silent. After the opening plaintive soliloquy of the temple bowls, the second movement enters attacca. A conspiratorial muted timpano ushers in pods of sounds that are restrained at first, but gradually build in power and complexity. There follows strong contrasts between these accumulating densities and the more isolated moments for solo instruments before the materials retreat into the silence whence it began.
Foreign Affairs was commissioned by the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble and Artistic Director David Stock, with financial assistance from the Canada Council.
From Dusk to Dawn (1997) for flute, oboe, clarinet, 2 violins, viola, cello and contrabass
From Dusk to Dawn was commissioned by New Music Concerts with financial assistance from the Canada Council and premiered by New Music Concerts on June 15, 1997, at Glenn Gould Studio in Toronto, with conductor Robert Aitken.
I had in mind a two-movement work: a still, lyrical first movement with subtle shifts in harmony followed by a bustling, lively second movement with restlessly shifting colours and rhythms. Sometime while working on the second movement, the work suggested otherwise, and from the midpoint of that movement, the work essentially goes backwards. The third movement, thus, reflects the first. For me, the differences in harmonic and melodic colouring of the two outer movements suggest the parallels between that of pre-dawn light and twilight.
In the Breath of the Night (1999) for string orchestra
Commissioned by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra, In the Breath of the Night was completed in the summer of 1999. The two movements of the work are in contrast to each other. While the introductory meditative vision is a transparent, brooding glimpse of the static essence of night, the robust second movement evokes a festive spirit, a hallucinogenic mirage of a dance hall evening enveloped in still desert air. The language of this work evolves from static cluster-like harmonies in the first movement to a rhythmic drone-based second movement with layers overlapping and coinciding, alternately in pantonal accumulations and hyper-Schoenbergian chromaticism. Much to the composer's surprise and bemused interest, this more restless tonal language has crept in recently. Whether this represents a diversion in her compositional language or a progression into a more forward-driving style, the composer is warily surveying the scene of this recent compositional turn.
Inner Voices (1995) for orchestra
In composing Inner Voices, I set out to juxtapose "fields" of colour in a way very similar to that of some abstract paintings or photographs. The subject of the work is therefore not a figurative or narrative idea but is rather about the interactions and proportions of the "colour fields" themselves. Just as I have chosen to elevate one aspect of music -- colour -- to predominate as a work's focus, I have also chosen to present these colours upon a flat aural plane. This is analogous to a painting without perspective, where there is no background or foreground, and where the flat canvas does not depict an illusory three-dimensional world.
In Inner Voices, there is no hierarchy represented by melody and accompaniment. Each colour field has its own unique instrumental colour (quite often that of one family or kind of instrument) and musical material. This is presented successively or simultaneously with other colour fields. Even when two fields are sounding together, each field's internal rhythm and phrase structure remain independent of each other, with neither being subservient. Thus they exist as parallel ideas, sometimes intersecting and creating friction, sometimes existing in harmony.
The title of the work, Inner Voices, suggests two ideas. The first highlights what I think is a third aspect of the work: the often intertwining lines within the colour fields. The variation of rhythm and/or instrumental colour of these lines adds richness to the texture and makes the colour vibrate with subtle nuances of the same hue. The second and more immediate allusion of Inner Voices, relates to the spirit of the work, more readily identifiable in the ebb-and-flow of the colour fields as they sound to me -- drifting in and out of consciousness, sometimes conflicting, sometimes confirming.
Inner Voices was commissioned by the National Arts Centre Orchestra (Ottawa), Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, and the Saskatoon Symphony, where I was composer-in-residence for the 1995-96 season.
Lacrymosa (1996) for soprano, clarinet and piano
I enjoy setting Latin texts and have waited for the right moment to set this beautiful passage from the Requiem mass. Commissioned by Jeunesses Musicales of Canada, Lacrymosa was premiered in January 1997 at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, Ontario. The Kutan-Moisan-Baril trio, who premiered the work, presented me with the ideal instrumentation and interpretive skill to convey the intimacy and longing embodied in the text.
Essentially I was striving for an affecting work of simple intimacy that speaks to the heart.
Lacrimosa dies illa,
qua resurget ex favilla
judicandus homo reus.
Huic ergo parce Deus,
pie Jesu, Domine,
dona eis requiem. Amen.
This day full of tears
when from the ashes arises
guilty man, to be judged:
Lord, have mercy upon him.
Gentle Lord Jesus,
grant them rest. Amen.
Night on Earth (2001) for English horn and SATB choir
I began composing the songs of Night on Earth in Barcelona, Spain, during my sojourn there in 2001. Inspired by the sensuality of Lorca's poems and immersed in the visceral conviviality of Spanish life, I chose four texts that captured the poetic and surreal aspects of the diverse landscape.
Dance of the Moon in Santiago pays homage to the passion of flamenco. This is a passion so contagious that it expresses itself in spontaneous eruptions in Andalucian towns as well as in calculated street performances at Catalonian tourist haunts.
Night on Earth was commissioned by oboist Lawrence Cherney and Soundstreams, with financial assistance from the Canada Council.
One Voice (1991) for flute solo
I composed this set of three pieces while I was learning to play the flute from Patti Monson at Yale University. I found that all manners of extended techniques, including pitch bends, whistle tones, multiphonics and cross-fading between registers, came so much more naturally to the novice flutist than any traditional flute technique. It occurred to me then that learning to play the Western flute the "correct" way involved training to eliminate from one's playing those very properties of the flute's tonal and timbral palette which were intrinsic to the instrument and to which I was most attracted. In this work I wanted not so much to exploit extended techniques than to make use of the instrument's entire range of colors. It was the result of time spent not practicing what I was supposed to.
Rush (1997) for pipa and string quartet
Rush was commissioned by the Vancouver Recital Society for the 1997 Vancouver Chamber Music Festival with financial assistance from the Canada Council. The work was completed during the early summer of 1997 while I was in residence at the Djerassi artist colony in Woodside, California.
With the recent migration of virtuosic pipa players and composers from China to North America, there has been an explosion of contemporary music incorporating the Chinese lute. Among traditional Chinese instruments, the pipa's sound colour, playing techniques and expressive potential lend themselves especially well to Western orchestral or string quartet instrumentations.
I began work on this piece after renting a pipa and taking a few lessons on the instrument. What attracted me most were the flamenco guitar-like qualities of the instrument's most idiomatic techniques as well as its ability to inflect or bend pitches, an element also characteristic of Chinese speech.
In order to develop a feel for the sound of the pipa, I listened to recordings and live performances of Classical Chinese pipa literature, which is predominantly diatonic in nature. Thus, I found it ironic that this two-movement work ended up containing some of the most chromatic passages in all my pieces.
San Rocco (1991) for oboe d'amore, SATB chamber choir and chimes
San Rocco is a centuries-old village set upon a hilltop near the Mediterranean coast of Italy. As may be likely in any place where the passing of time has been borne well by its inhabitants, the tranquil life there struck me as at once possessing the aura of both antiquity and modernity, a place of seeming timelessness - a place where the daily rituals of the past thousand years have been etched and where time has passed but has yet to be felt.
The work is in the form of four static tableaux, based on three separate musical materials for the oboe d'amore, choir, and percussion, respectively. The text is comprised of fragments from the Latin mass.
Shall We Go? (1996) for baroque ensemble
Shall We Go? is a quote from Samuel Beckett's play, Waiting for Godot. I've always liked the rhythm, the circularities, and the time-sense of Beckett's works. This title seemed appropriate.
This work was composed as part of the collaboration between the Common Sense Composers Collective and American Baroque for the concert and CD: "New Music for Old Instruments," released on Santa Fe New Music in 2002.
sky so empty (2000-1) for string quartet
sky so empty was commissioned by the Kronos Quartet with financial assistance from the Canada Council.
I remember walking down the street in Paris with David Harrington and mentioning that I had been meaning to write a postcard to my mentor, Mel Powell. He stopped in his tracks and slowly turned to tell me that Mel had died just a couple of weeks ago. Maybe I knew somehow. I rarely write postcards. In the years in which this work was conceived, memories of beloved individuals had been stirring in all our hearts. It was difficult to see the vast sky as anything but empty. This work is for Mel Powell, Jacob Druckman, and Earl Kim, to whom I owe my deepest gratitude for their inspiration, encouragement and support.
Solace (2002) for string quartet
Solace was commissioned by the St. Lawrence String Quartet with a grant from the Fromm Music Foundation of Harvard University.
Ancient Polynesian mariners travelled to Easter Island in the South Pacific more than a thousand years ago, leaving vestiges of their culture in the form of massive stone moai (mo-eye). On the isolated inland site of Ahu Akivi, these giant stone heads stand sentinel, facing west toward the sea. Their faces are, at once, human and godlike. They are not watching over the land, with their backs against the water. They are staring beyond. Perhaps they are seeking solace or remembering their home. If we only knew their thoughts ...
Solstice (1994) for piccolo, oboe d'amore, percussion and piano
Composed for the debut concerts of the Common Sense Composers Collective, Solstice was first performed in Hartford, Connecticut and New York City on the occasion of the summer solstice.
I consider Solstice to be one of my most intimate pieces. In terms of the materials -- each instrument plays only a few pitches throughout -- it is also one of my simplest, with silence playing a central role. The piece unfolds as one long phrase, revolving around an oboe d'amore melody inspired by the music of the hichiriki in the Japanese Gagaku court orchestra. The notes spin out in ever-widening circles, always returning to repose in the notes of the piano. Gradually more and more is revealed until the oboe d'amore drops out. The piccolo comes in to close the piece.
Solstice is recorded on the debut CD of the Common Sense Composers' Collective on CRI's Emergency Music.
Speaking in Tongues (1993) for 15 instruments [fl, ob, 2 cl, bsn, hrn, tpt, trb, perc, pno, 2 vln, vla, vc, cb]
Speaking in Tongues is a set of nine miniatures for fifteen instruments. All but one of the subtitles are derived from two poems by E. E. Cummings and a quote by French poet Jean Baptiste Rousseau: "Le masque tombe, l'homme reste, et le héros s'evanouit." The peculiar fragmentation and interspersion of these images reflect the structure of the work and are inspired by John Cage's Silence and Italo Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveler. I composed this work for the Nouvel Ensemble Moderne of Montreal for Forum 93.
Speaking in Tongues is recorded by the Nouvel Ensemble Moderne on the disc, Forum 93, on the UMMUS label.
Still (2000) for flute, percussion, violin, viola (or clarinet), and cello
Still was commissioned by flutist Robert Cram with financial assistance from the Canada Council. The three-movement work, performed without break, describes an arc from introspective stillness to a breathless flight back into stasis. The materials used in each movement are seemingly discrete, however, as they are continually juxtaposed and re-ordered creating cycles of re-contextualized elements in the foreground of a slowly evolving harmonic process.
Tempered Glass (1989) for alto/flute, clarinet, percussion, pno/cel, violin, cello
Drawing inspiration from the contradictory qualities of glass, its fragility and strength,Tempered Glass traces the evolution of a musical role reversal between the melodic and percussive voices.
two sides to the wind (1990) for flugelhorn/trumpet and orchestra
When I started work on this piece, I was fascinated by the music of the mButi pygmies, the ragas of Northern India, and of Charles Mingus' "The Black Saint and Sinner Lady." Whether these influences have found their way into this composition I cannot say, since the musical materials usually demand my exclusive attention once the work has begun. And I, willingly and unwillingly, follow their sometimes ecstatic and often tormented paths.
two sides to the wind is an homage to the concerti of earlier times when composer and performer were one and improvisation within 'composed' works was common. Unfortunately the growth of composition and performance as separate art forms have left the composer only to create and the performer to interpret.
This two-movement concerto was inspired by and written for those versatile performers who possess the ability to create and interpret. It was composed in deference to two improvisatory traditions: American jazz and Indian classical music. The first movement is a structured improvisation based upon the North Indian raga, Piloo, in combination with my own melodic material. It is a long, substantive introduction to the brisk, virtuosic second movement. The two movements are performed without a break.
When soft voices die (2000) for piano solo
When soft voices die was composed in November of 2000 when I was in
residence at the Banff Centre for the Arts. The work is dedicated to my
mentors -- Jacob Druckman, Mel Powell and Earl Kim -- to whom I owe my
deepest gratitude for their inspiration, encouragement and support.
These three extraordinary composers died within a few years of each other
between 1996 to 1998. I miss them dearly.
Woman: Songs on poems by Sandra Cisneros (1997)
for mezzo-soprano (or soprano), flute, viola & cello
A Man in My Bed Like Cracker Crumbs
Well, If You Insist
When I came upon a collection of poems by the Mexican-American poet Sandra Cisneros in the summer of 1996, I immediately knew that I wanted to set them to music. Having recently completed a serene and ethereal Lacrymosa for a vocal trio, the inevitable antidote was to set the sassy, earthy voice of Cisneros' heroine. Each song portrays a woman's different moods, sometimes contradictory and at other times fleeting. For "Loose Woman," my model was the song "Big Spender," a striptease from the Broadway musical Sweet Charity. The text of "Loose Woman" presented me the opportunity to compose a feminist equivalent of that number, projecting female sexuality in a positive rather than subversive "femme fatale" manner. To me, the devilish feminism of "Loose Woman" as well as the other poems from the collection represents a celebration of a woman's newfound confidence in her independence.
Woman was commissioned by NUMUS of Kitchener, ON, with financial assistance from the Canada Council.