a. fl, cl, sax or hn, celesta, perc, pno, vl, vla, cello


11 minutes

Commissioned by/Premiere

Red Light New Music / Ted Hearne, conductor
February 10, 2008 at Columbia University


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Reading a Wave (“lettura di un’onda”) takes its title from the opening chapter of Italo Calvino’s novella Mr Palomar (simply Palomar in Italian). The novel opens with the protagonist of the same name sitting at the beach intent upon looking at just a single wave. But, he finds, “isolating one wave is not easy, separating it from the wave immediately following, which seems to push it and at times overtakes it and sweeps it away; and it is not easier to separate that wave from the preceding wave, which seems to drag it toward the shore, unless it turns against the following wave, as if to arrest it.” I found this image striking—particularly so because I had a very similar experience this past summer staring at the waves on a dock in the city of Siracusa in Sicily. Waves, which for Calvino serve as a metaphor for the whole world, cannot be defined in and of themselves; they exist only in relation to one another. Similarly, the opening of my Reading a Wave involves imposing—one by one—several layers of music that are all similar. But like waves in an ocean, it is not so important that their individual identity be maintained, but rather that they blend together in a composite whole whose interplay is the most intriguing part.

One more image: During the same summer I also spent time in Siena. A tiny walled city, Siena has hundreds of churches with huge bells, oftentimes not more than a block from one another. Perched at the highest point in the city, I could watch as three churches would simultaneously call off the hour, each at a slightly different speed from a different place in the city, each echoing off the walls of the city. This inspired the second half of the piece, in which the piano, glockenspiel and celesta, each perched at a different place in the hall, imitate these bells’ sounds and, after several minutes, slowly merge into the winds, just as the memories of these two cities merge together for me.