Trillium Ensemble at American University

Conversations w/ Ligeti & Heidegger & Mom in the Background will receive a repeat performance by Trillium Ensemble at American University on March 27, 2015. Trillium commissioned the piece and premiered it back in May of 2014 at the Pittsburgh Festival of New Music. A recording of the premiere can be heard on my soundcloud.

The music, in one way or another, reflects each person mentioned in the title, which is itself an allusion to Ligeti’s “Self Portait with Reich and Riley (and Chopin in the Background).

Ligeti‘s influence is, perhaps, the most apparent. Many of his pieces utilize a texture in which many voices sound within the same register while playing rapidly changing notes. The sum of all the parts results in a mass of sound in which the listener can’t single out each instrument. This is micropolyphony.

With my piece, the ensemble texture is thin enough that the individuality of each voice is not entirely lost. It is still micropolyphonic, but the three voices don’t merely blur together within a narrow register. The texture sparkles as each voice momentarily pops out and then swiftly dissipates.

Heidegger influenced the form through his writings on time. He writes on how our perception of a given moment both influences and is influenced by all other perceived moments. Thinking about this as I was composing, I tried to be aware of how each musical idea is experienced not only in and of itself but through its relationship and proximity to the others.

Midway through writing the piece, the lullaby that my mother used to sing us unconsciously began to work its way into the middle-ground layers of the piece. Rather than reject this material, I chose to emphasize it by quoting the lullaby explicitly. In the middle of the piece, the pianist quietly hums the tune against a backdrop of crystal glasses and low notes in the piano.

Conversations… is not just an homage but an acknowledgement and synthesis of ideas and techniques. It is also dedicated to my mother, Brenda, for her love, friendship, and continuing support.


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