for piano and string orchestra (min 188.8.131.52.1)
for Shai Wosner, by the Phoenix Symphony with support from the Adele and John Gray Foundation, Albany Symphony, and the 92nd Street Y with support from Richard Replin & Elissa Stein
The Air Suspended is a piano concerto inspired by changes of weather, and the enormous reserves of energy required to accomplish such a transformation. In my piece, the solo pianist is the energy source: he—in this case, the spectacular Shai Wosner—plays highly kinetic music continuously throughout the 16-minute work. The string orchestra captures his musical material, which it transforms, accretes, and dissipates, like weather patterns.
The opening movement, “From Ground to Cloud,” draws its title from Ben Lerner’s long poem, Mean Free Path:
This movement from the ground to cloud / Of waves decaying slowly on plucked strings / Is lightning.
The form of the movement was inspired by a video of Ground-To-Cloud lightning—lightning that appears to come up from the ground—and structurally works in the form of three strikes: the low rumbling material in the piano suddenly breaks into a series of jagged and explosive gestures at the top of the piano.
The second movement, “Dissolving Margins,” takes it title from Elena Ferrante’s book, My Brilliant Friend:
The thing was happening to her that I mentioned and that she later called dissolving margins. It was — she told me — as if, on the night of a full moon over the sea, the intense black mass of a storm advanced across the sky, swallowing every light, eroding the circumference of the moon’s circle, and disfiguring the shining disk, reducing it to its true nature of rough insensate material.
The movement begins simply and starkly, with a gentle arpeggio repeated in the piano against a single sustained and muted violin, hanging in the air. But slowly a storm approaches: each of the strings catches one of the piano’s notes and slowly accretes into a tempest of chaotic pizzicati and sul ponticello bowing.
The second movement proceeds straight into the third movement, “Stutter, Like Rain,” again drawing its title from Ben Lerner:
…but now, in the dark, I hear / The little delays. If you would speak of love / Stutter, like rain
The music here is a series of glitched loops, where the strings slowly pick up the jagged, repeated gestures in the piano with rapid changes of tempo. The movement—which moves from this jagged opening material to quotes from prior movements to a fully composed cadenza, closes suddenly with one final lightning flash and a sharp cutoff of all instruments, which itself inspired the title of the concerto, a line from Four Quartets by TS Eliot:
Dust in the air suspended / Marks the place where a story ended.
The Air Suspended was commissioned for Shai Wosner, by the Phoenix Symphony with support from the Adele and John Gray Foundation, Albany Symphony, and the 92nd Street Y with support from Richard Replin & Elissa Stein. It is dedicated, with gratitude, to Shai Wosner.