The Garden of Forking Paths, for Orchestra

After five years of exclusively writing chamber music, I have dedicated this spring to composing a new work for orchestra: The Garden of Forking Paths. I sketched a plan of the whole piece back in March and have spent the past few weeks realizing it one passage at a time. While the end of the piece is, at the moment, still being orchestrated, I consider it to be my best work to date. It is dedicated with love, friendship, respect, and hope to my girlfriend, Jun.

The piece opens with a flute solo, at once singing and florid. (This is, after all, a garden.) Loud and bold, it is as beautiful as it is aggressive. The solo is supported by the crotales and glockenspiel, brightly coloring the flute’s harmonic shifts. The ringing metals are further enhanced by soft harmonics in the second violins, which are muted and divisi. The flute plays two phrases separated by a grand pause in the middle.

The solo flute’s melody is then passed on to the second flute and first violins. One by one, the other woodwinds and the rest of the violins are added to the long melody that had started with the piece’s first note, each new voice thickening the column of sound. Beneath, the violas and cellos blossom into bursts of trills accentuated by chords in the harp and vibraphone.

The opening two minutes are one long melodic arc that builds to a full tutti before a sudden tempo change launches the piece into the next section.


Opening an orchestra piece with a flute solo begs comparison with Claude Debussy’s prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune. It was not until after the opening was composed that I noticed the connection. Admittedly, four years ago, I spent a month analyzing this piece in a Debussy seminar class, and have learned much about composing from him, from form to orchestration techniques.

While both works do include an important measure of silence early on, there are many differences between the two. In The Garden of Forking Paths, the solo flute is accompanied by the percussion; the crotales do not appear until the end in the Faun. The character of the flute solo is very different as well. It starts in a register an octave higher than Debussy’s. It is marked Forte and, though graceful and lithe at certain moments, is quite brash at times.

Debussy and I are never in competition. Artists can only pursue the creation their own works. For example, I can’t be Beethoven, nor do I want to be. He and I are from different times and live within different contexts. Debussy’s job was to be the best at composing his music. Likewise, mine is to be the best at writing my music.

It is the same for all of us.





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