I joined Arthur Levering and Marti Epstein for the fourth edition of their new music series “Tone Stampede,” performed on September 26, 2016 at Distler Hall, Tufts University. The concert featured Don Berman on piano; Sarah Brady, flute; Gabriela Diaz, violin; and Rane Moore, clarinet, as well as me, on piano. As composer my offerings were the two below:
Trio About Smoking, Op. 558 (2014-2016) Performed by Rane Moore, Gabriela Diaz, and Donald Berman
- Trying To Quit
- I Don’t Want To Work—I Want To Smoke (After Poulenc/Apollinaire)
- Trailing Off…
Two Parts, Five Participants, Op. 604 (2016) Performed by Sarah Brady, Rane Moore, Gabriela Diaz, Donald Berman, and John McDonald
- Some Fifty-Finger Phrases
- Best Feet Forward (Faire De Son Mieux)
Trio About Smoking
Smoking breaks can be common occurrences for busy freelance musicians and music professors alike. The members of the Zodiac Trio, for whom the piece was conceived, are no exception to this observable habit. When we have worked together, many of our best ideas came about in conversation during smoking breaks just outside concert hall lobbies. I intend this piece as both a paean to musician/smokers’ tension-relaxation possibilities and a health warning! Thankfully, tonight’s performers—Rane, Gabriela, and Donald—are all non-smokers! And so quicksilver they needed smoking-break discussions.
Cast in three brief movements, a repetitive, industrious opening piece imagines a valiant habit-breaking attempt to get the trio underway. The second piece refers to the Poulenc song Hôtel, set to an indolent poem by Guillaume Apollinaire in which the last line declares “I don’t want to work; I want to smoke.” The music alludes to Poulenc’s cloudy harmony, and is inspired by baritone Pierre Bernac’s recorded performance with Poulenc at the keyboard; it takes bits of the song as source material for a melancholy rumination. The concluding piece of the trio attempts to paint the image of a curl of smoke trailing off. Not without conflict, the work nevertheless aims for a light touch.
Two Parts, Five Participants was composed specifically for tonight’s distinctive stampede. Its two movements are small appreciations made for this group of wonderful players and colleagues. I made the piano part a four-hand endeavor so I could join them!
Initially conceived as the entire piece, Some Fifty-Finger Phrases now works as the first of two parts. Since its conceit was to make music in which every phrase requires fifty fingers to complete (a total of fifty fingers is available for use by the total ensemble of five people), it got tiring to go on too long developing new phrase strategies with this unusual limit. It was fun while it lasted, and hopefully provocative for the listener. A second part, Best Feet Forward (Faire De Son Mieux) was first composed as a piano solo for presentation at the Tufts European Center in Talloires, France where I was a Scholar-in-Residence this past summer. With this re-composition of the piece for five musicians, I sought to provide a good companion to the fifty-finger enterprise, yielding a flow of music that shows the ensemble’s elegance and flexibility. I dedicate the work to our transcendent musicians Sarah, Rane, Gabriela, and Donald.