for flute (or sop. sax), clarinet (doubling b.cl), violin, cello, piano, and percussion
a bit over 8 minutes
World Premiere: May 17, 2019, Stage 773, Chicago, Il, Latitude 49
Premiere of Version with Flute: July 12, 2019. City Theatre, Pittsburgh, PA, Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, Kevin Noe, artistic director
“Why Was I Born Between Mirrors?” is the penultimate sentence in Ben Lerner’s novel, Leaving the Atocha Station. The book is about an American author living abroad in Spain, trying to find his own voice through the act of translating Spanish poems into English. The original phrase ¿Porque naci entre espejos?, comes from a poem by Federico Garcia Lorca, “Canción del naranjo seco” and my title is Ben’s translation.
While composing this sextet, I began thinking about how the act of translation is very similar to the act of transposition in music. On the surface, it is a straightforward operation. However, when a musical idea is shifted out of its original registral or instrumental context, the results are often surprising and not always predictable. This is particularly true in my composition: Mirrors utilizes the unstable sounds of a prepared piano (in this case, metal screws inserted between the strings) and clay flower pots purchased from a local hardware store. Since these are not conventional instruments whose soundworld is consistent or uniform, moving musical ideas up or down a step produces strikingly different results, just as the act of translating words from another language inevitably changes its meaning, for better or worse.
The title also refers to the form of the piece, where the meat of the work occurs “between mirrors.” The piece begins and ends with an undulating tremolo on flower pots; moving inward there is a rhythmic section for prepared piano, at the center is a gentle and lamenting chorale, expressing the core of the work at its simplest: two notes, a third apart, trying to connect to one another.
Naturally, given the stage set-up demands, the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, now in its 44th season, debuted its 310th commission this past weekend, an offering by American composer Christopher Cerrone at City Theatre on the South Side.
The ensemble (flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano and percussion) launched Saturday’s performance with a rush of air from the clarinet (Pffffft!), as the players set up a steady, gently undulating pattern in percussion and piano. Short, high-pitched interjections from the strings were followed by melodic fragments in the winds, hauntingly tranquil and belying just a hint of an edge. This was music to relax into, transparent enough to follow easily, harmonious enough to feel cozy, and performed with an arresting balance of energy and skill.Jeremy Reynolds, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette