larger ensemble

2019 Linke Hand eines Apostels for harpsichord and ensemble (ob, bcl, bn, tbn, perc, gtr, pno, 2vn, va, vc, db)

Commissioned by the Riot Ensemble, the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, and BBC Radio 3
Duration: ca. 20′

Premiere: Goska Isphording (hps), Riot Ensemble / Aaron Holloway-Nahum – 16 November 2019, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, Huddersfield, UK

Linke Hand eines Apostels (“Left hand of an apostle,” after a sketch by Albrecht Dürer for a small but central detail of a large and spectacular altarpiece, attending feverishly to details of vein, bone, skin, draped folds of cloth, and an almost painful-looking torsion of joints and knuckles–details largely lost in the oil painting that resulted; but here highlighted and exaggerated with a feverish and ultimately unproductive intensity) is written for harpsichord and twelve instruments, among them an obbligato violin and a larger and mostly inactive concertante group of guitar and percussion: proceeding, after an initial fruitless and immediately evaporating burst of articulatory energy, along a thin, frail, friable, unreliable thread, about nineteen minutes long, a single torqued and flexed line.

The harpsichord is a soloist not by virtue of density of rhetoric or soloistic vigor but merely from the sheer unavoidable fact of its mechanism, whose particularities and interior personality dictate the material of the solo part, and a pair of spare, silence-filled cadenzas. The whole work, because of the harpsichord, is about tensed strings, frail resonances, and hammered attacks: an extremely quiet, disappearingly unstable fantasia on what makes the harpsichord possible.

Notable among the opening weekend’s premieres were the St Paul’s Hall performance by the Riot Ensemble under Aaron Holloway-Nahum, of the American Evan Johnson’s curious, minutely gestic Linke Hand eines Apostels — a kind of concerto for a harpsichordist (Goska Isphording) who no sooner starts playing than seems to want to stop. — Paul Driver, The Sunday Times

score excerpt

2017 measurement as contrition: three canons for orchestra ( hp 3perc

Duration: ca. 17′

Premiere: BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra (cond. Ilan Volkov) – 6 May 2018, Tectonics Festival, Glasgow, Scotland

Gregory the Great’s Homilies on the Prophet Ezekiel include extended discourses on the penitential act of measuring the dimensions of the prophet’s imagined citadel: a physically impossible space. ‘Look upon divine realities,’ writes Gregory, ‘and yet remember your human limitations.’1

measurement as contrition is an inaccessible, distant, privately meditative hovering over the measurement of spaces and the weighing of volumes. Most of the volumes here are empty or nearly so, their boundaries suggested extremely faintly; the spaces are negative. The orchestra is there, in large part, as potential, an outer bound.

Some of these spaces contain fragments from Matteo da Perugia’s chanson “Le grant desir”, but they have been wiped almost entirely away.

1 Translated by Mary Carruthers; see her The Craft of Thought: Meditation, Rhetoric, and the Making of Images, 400-1200 (Cambridge UP: 1998), p. 242.

2012 die bewegung der augen for nine instruments

Commissioned by Meet the Composer/Commissioning Music USA for Dal Niente     ::      Duration: ca. 13′
Premiere: Dal Niente – 24 July 2012, Darmstadt Summer Courses, Germany

die bewegung der augen is four small attempted mechanisms: provisional local regularities, tentative lattices of simultaneity, obstacles and ornamented planes, networks forming and diffusing; constellations of approaches to a hazy framework of durations, gestures, instrumental groupings, and sometimes harmonies. The constant tendency is to fade: into silence, into noise, into regularity, into impassivity. “The movements of the eyes”—among and between similar gestures, looping restatements, angled perspectival boundaries.

[ This work was awarded a Fellowship Prize at the 2012 Darmstadt Summer Courses. ]

score excerpt

2006 down / among the altitudes for fifteen instruments

Dedicated to David Felder     ::     Duration: ca. 16′
Premiere: Slee Sinfonietta – 9 April 2009, SUNY Buffalo, Buffalo, NY

The title down / among the altitudes is taken from the book-length poem Anathemata by the Welsh poet David Jones. The passage from which the phrase in the title is taken describes, in a wide-ranging fashion typical of the poem, the changing of the Earth’s surface on a geologic time-scale as it intersects with the genius loci-based nature of native Celtic mythology – itself in turn a distorted reference to the Catholic Mass, around which the entire poem is somehow constructed.

All that aside, the present work is, in its first half (comprising the first movement), a similarly “geologic” endeavor. Very little happens on the large scale, and that which does happen takes place slowly, and within a strictly circumscribed zone: one unchanging tempo, a narrow (very quiet) dynamic range, a narrow (high) registral environment, and virtually without exception one single (undifferentiatedly active) texture. The focus of this movement is entirely on the fact of the entry and exit of various instrumental subgroups, and the various innate energies they bring to their own struggles with these restrictions. The piano and percussion (exclusively crotales, with the exception of a vibraphone passage near the beginning) play characterlessly and aimlessly throughout, grounding the music even more tightly around a single timbral strand.

The second half of the piece, comprising movements II through VI (which, theoretically speaking, together have a duration exactly equal to that of the first movement, and share an identical sequence of bar lengths and time signatures), is a spectacular explosion of this singularity and simultaneously an attempt to “fill in the gaps” that are an artifact of the eddies of local repetition that destroy much of the material meant to appear in the first movement. That material appears in these broken shards instead, placed in time where they ought to have appeared in the first movement, as the piece stumbles fitfully to a close. down / among the altitudes finally ends in exhaustion, as it manages, gasping, to present the last chord for which it is responsible.

2002 Horizontals White over Dark for orchestra
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