Trio was commissioned by the Music from Angel Fire festival in 2001 and had its world premiere on Wednesday, August 22, 2001, Melvin Chen, piano, Ida Kavafian, violin, and Peter Wiley, cello.  The piece is a fairly athletic work in three movements, about 19 minutes long. Movements one and three are very rhythmic, fast, and hauntingly jazz-like — in Miles Davis kind of way.  The third movement is influenced by jazz and has a quote from Zez Confrey’s Kitten on the Keys.  The second inner movement is quite placid, exploiting the rising and falling third motif of the first movement and is free flowing and very quiet.




Sifting Through the Ruins is a set of five songs composed in memory of the human lives changed forever by the bombing of the World Trade Center in September 2001. Susanne Mentzer, James Dunham, Craig Rutenberg, and I give these songs to you with a wish to honor the profound love of life, so gentle, but at present ferociously and blindingly evident in every second of our lives.


Susanne privately collected a number of texts which she discovered on her personal journey towards understanding the events of September 11th. We chose the words we present today as a way of bringing out essential emotions. The truths are stark. The words are startlingly authentic - simple, innocent, direct, and bereft of contrivance.  They are the only logical, human response to the utter shock of sudden death. That there are words at all astounds me. These are the hardest words with which I have ever partnered as a composer. But we four artists trust that our work together can in some small way articulate their weight by letting the words speak for themselves, born up by the music we make.




James Dunham and I met while I was working on a commission for the Cleveland String Quartet. We liked each other’s energy and had compatible views about music. I was dazzled by his musicianship and his genial and generous ways. I knew right away that I wanted to compose a viola sonata for him. and lucky for me, he agreed to let me compose for him.


Composing for viola is a particularly rewarding endeavor. Its mid-range lyricism and quiet ways demand a sensitive ear, especially to dynamics. I tend to think in bold dynamics and I found that I had to calm my ears down for this work, composing more subtle gestures which are, at the same time, bold. I wanted to honor James’ extraordinary gift for nuanced musical moments.


The work is in three movements (Sultry, Still and Burst) I worked to accept the form of the traditional sonata  while rehabilitating the content composing music that is about viola and  piano, nothing more, nothing less.


This program note is based on an interview with the composer published by Stradmagazine.




Up, where the air gets thin, music takes on new meaning. Sir Edmund Hillary and Tensing the Sherpa who first reached the top of Mount Everest could not whistle with awe at the view, for it is impossible to whistle above 25,000 feet. Up where the air gets thin lies the acoustic horizon, the elusive line at the extreme range of audibility, where old decaying sound waves tremble and shake into formless echoes of themselves. Up, Where the Air Gets Thin is like an E.E. Cummings poem. It explores imaginatively strange acoustic effects at extreme heights. This was composed for and premiered by the Minneapolis Artists Ensemble.




Four on the Floor is inspired by boogie-woogie. It is a celebration of American music and American musicians. The metronome indication for Four on the Floor is 138-144 to the quarter note, a speed verging on breakneck, and breakneck is the theme of the piece--an America that is speeding up faster and faster, jazzing into eternity.


After a short 3-bar introduction, the boogie beat is laid down by the piano. Its characteristic use of triplets and a “walking bass” in the left hand continues throughout the piece. A jazzy pizzicato phrase for the three string instruments leads into a slightly slower section which features dialogue between the strings (playing in rhythmic unison) and the piano. A re- statement of the earlier material is combined with a “ripping” riff. Breathless solos for each instrumentalist bring Four on the Floor to a boisterous conclusion.


Four on the Floor was commissioned by the Minneapolis Artists Ensemble, and received its premiere in March, 1983.




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