I had the pleasure of working with members of The Academy on a new piece in February, 2012 after I and three other members of the composer collective, Sleeping Giant, were commissioned by Carnegie Hall. The commission was to to create a new piece which responds to Igor Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat, which was to be performed on the same program.
Each member of Sleeping Giant chose a different aspect of L’Histoire to reflect on. Andrew Norman chopped up L’Histoire’s short ear-worm melodies and layered them on top of each other. Robert Honstein sampled a tiny glitch from the first movement and constructed an entire piece out of the tiny cell. And Jacob Cooper wrote a whirlwind of a piece that amplifies the wild drum solo that ends the piece.
For my piece (entitled Recovering), I chose to paraphrase the “Pastorale”. The “Pastorale” has always been my favorite movement from L’Histoire (Alex Ross wrote in The Rest is Noise that all American music is implicit in the “Pastorale”). In Recovering, I took the opening gesture from the Pastorale—three quick notes in the clarinet, and two sustained in the violin and double bass—and slowed them down into an almost frozen state.
This gesture is first played by a sustained vibraphone, coated in delicate a haze of breath sounds arranged to surround the audience. Stravinsky’s gesture gradually thaws and gains direction, joined by evolving sounds in the strings. In time, tiny alterations to the gesture—a displaced octave, a new pitch, different harmonies, and finally a regular pulse—re-contextualize it completely from its origins in L’Histoire. Only at this point does the music reach a state of repose and stability, if only temporarily.
Listen/watch here to a lovely performance by the Deviant Septet at Issue Project Room.
Thanks in part to a CAP Grant from New Music USA, I was able to travel to Saratoga Springs to attend the premiere of the work, to work with the fine musicians, and to also attend the New York premiere at Weill Hall. The New York Times had some nice things to say about the program. Later on, so did the Washington Post, and New Music USA’s own NewMusicBox.