Arthur Zankel Music Center, Helen Filene Ladd Concert Hall, Saratoga Springs, NY
While I think of myself primarily as a composer of vocal music, I have in the last twelve years begun writing music for instrumental groups. I have always thought of the voice as an instrument since I rarely use text, and have sought to uncover a full spectrum of vocal sound. Now I am enjoying the process of exploring instruments as voices.
Backlight, composed especially for Ensemble ACJW, plays sonically with the idea of shadow and light, exploring it from different vantage points. The piece is a continuous whole consisting of three different movements. In the first, long dissonant tones are played by the winds in contrast to a tritone ostinato in the strings and piano. The second movement is built on a slow descending chord progression surrounded by elements of unsettled stasis. The third movement opens out and is expansive and spacious, mitigating the compression and tension of the first two movements while recalling their chromaticism in its mixed sound world.
In Backlight, I explored bi-tonality and dissonance and how I could thread those aspects through a diatonic or modal underpinning. Layering, both harmonic and rhythmic, intricate but transparent counterpoint and various densities and timbres were the elements that I worked with. I chose the instruments carefully. At first I thought to have at least one singer in the piece and then decided to keep to an instrumental arrangement so that I could concentrate more on the qualities of the individual instruments. I chose four wind instruments because they directly relate to the breath-length of the voice. The bowing movement of the two lower string players became in my mind an equivalent to breathing. I chose the piano for its attack, dynamism and polyphonic capacity but also to blend with the other instruments, creating a new underlying color.
It has been a pleasure to work with the brilliant and sensitive young musicians of Ensemble ACJW who are quick to get to the heart of the music and make it their own. I want to thank them for their spirit of adventure and their patience. I would also like to especially thank my close associate, Allison Sniffin, who helped me in countless ways, offering her prodigious knowledge and encouragement throughout the process of bringing Backlight to life.