Sarajevo Cellist

The siege of Sarajevo lasted from April 5, 1992, through February 29, 1996. I was shocked at the fierceness, brutality, and ruthlessness of the siege I read in newspapers and saw on TV broadcasts. From the book, “Vedran Smailović: The Brave Cellist of Sarajevo Still Moves the World:” On May 27, 1992, a long line of people had queued up at one of the still functioning bakeries in Sarajevo. A mortar shell fell into the middle of the line, killing 22 people and creating a bloody mess of body parts and rubble. A cellist who lived close to the bakery and was appalled, and helped the wounded. He felt powerless as he was neither a politician nor a soldier—he was a musician, who could speak truth to the heart beyond any language. The cellist took his cello to the spot where those waiting for bread had been butchered and began to plaintively play. He played in a daze but in an incredibly evocative way. In spite of the risk, people gathered to listen. When he was finished he packed up his cello and went to a coffee shop. In later days he would go to other sites of where lives were taken or bodies were wounded by shelling.


After seeing this anonymous cellist on the news playing for the people of Sarajevo and for the dead, the impact of this man’s actions stayed with me. I finally felt the need to try to compose a piece of music, and composed a two-movement sonata for cello and piano, Sarajevo Cellist. The anonymity of the cellist helped to inspire me to compose the work, since I could use the figure as a universal character of a tremendously caring musician.


The first movement, the recording on this album, is my imagining, or really trying to imagine from the relative safety of Los Angeles, what this cellist went through. I have never been in a war setting, but using images from readings, movies, television, and news programs, I tried to create the machine of war: the brutality, the fear, bullets flying, rockets coming in, the loudness of war, and those strange moments when hostilities cease, and an unworldly quiet settles in until the next round of bullets, destruction, and death. This is my imaging of the cellist working his way around Sarajevo amidst the war and amongst the wounded and dead. The second movement (not recorded) is my idea of the balm of music the cellist gave to the wounded, and to the souls of the dead. Years later, while attending Mass at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, a visiting Jesuit priest talked about this Sarajevo Cellist, and the book by Daniel Bury. I now knew the cellist’s name. The impact of what he did has not diminished. — Matthew Hetz






And what would a music be, that wouldn’t make you sing, dance, or cry? — Francis Wolff


A lone glimmer flickering quietly

a glimmer of hope – do not miss

Or twinkle lights dancing festively

parade of ever changing promises


Glimmer shining through fog and sea

radiant faith of a safe harbor image

Or deep in the night of mount and valley

the shimmer of a fairy tale village


Santa Ana winds blowing in panic

glimmer ambers to wildfire memories

Or bouncing on the strings of music

softly lighting a golden thread to bliss

— Pierre Schroeder



Vanishing Perspectives

Vanishing Perspectives (for amplified cello) was commissioned by cellist Craig Hultgren in 2003 and premiered in 2005. After considering many of the new innovations and new works written for solo cello, I realized that I wanted to write a piece that would readdress the cello’s more traditional role as a robust and singing baritone instrument. I thought that perspective was vanishing in much of the new music I was seeing, especially for an instrument that is tuned in fifths, often plays bass lines, and has such a strong tradition of playing tonal music. This work is also built on fragments of an earlier piece of mine, “Cycles and Myths,” and uses the idea of the half-step fall as a strong tonal force that shapes both small and large-scale motion. The amplification and reverberation help add a spatial dimension to the vanishing sounds and gestures, expanding the expressive quality of the instrument. — Timothy Kramer



Bright Hair, Falling

I wrote Bright Hair, Falling for a workshop given by the Schubert Ensemble of London at a COMA (Contemporary Music for All) summer school in 1999. I came across the title, by chance, on the internet in a reference to a waterfall. The piece has three main sections: the first represents the gathering of the water before the falls and culminates in an upwards glissandi on both the violin and cello as the waters hurtle over the edge.


Time then slows down as we follow the water cascading downwards. Note clusters on the piano represent the turmoil of the descending water, but we also have several almost stationary episodes where we catch glimpses of the spirit of the falls staring out at us from behind the cascades. The section ends with very loud piano clusters right at the bottom end of the piano. In the third, very brief, section, the water gathers in a dark pool beneath the falls and the piece ends as the water sets off on the next part of its journey. — John Hawkes



Three Caprices

Three Caprices is a set of miniatures for violin and cello. The first movement, “Playful,” juxtaposes several cellular ideas, each time creating variations on accents, meter, length, and texture. Quickly moving from one cell to the next, this movement keeps the performers and listeners on their toes. In the first half of “Fickle,” the performers avoid the commitment of playing together as an ensemble, except for fleeting movements. They join together for a lyrical middle section, but before completing even a single phrase, the cellist breaks into the opening idea. “Jazzy” explores motivic development to create moments of polyrhythm, call and response, and invertible counterpoint; an overall off-kilter dance to bring the set to a rousing finish. Written for Patti Kilroy and Meaghan Burke of the Cadillac Moon Ensemble, Three Caprices premiered on April 10, 2014 at Elebash Recital Hall, New York City. — David T. Bridges



Beauty from Forgetfulness

Beauty from Forgetfulness is a one-movement work for piano trio. The title of the piece is taken from the poem “Epithalamium” by E. E. Cummings:


And still the mad magnificent herald Spring

assembles beauty from forgetfulness


The piece premiered on November 3, 2012 at the San Francisco Community Music Center as part of the annual NACUSAsf Composers Performance Ensemble concert. The performers were Monica Gruber, violin, Dahna Ruder, violoncello, and Libby Kardontchik, piano. — John G. Bilotta




Endowed with a sentimental nature, Notturno is a piece of intense emotions. The intertwining of cello and piano are the leitmotiv of the work. Notturno is a hymn to those dreamy feelings that the night brings to everyone’s heart. — Christian Paterniti



Crooked Lake

Keuka Lake, one of the New York Finger Lakes, is Y-shaped, an unusual formation that has earned it the nickname “Crooked Lake.”


This slow and gentle work is inspired by the view over the lake, with the sun glinting off of the surface and the sounds of the birds and the breezes across the water. I imagined myself setting off from a dock in the early morning, paddling quietly, occasionally stopping, drifting, and simply experiencing what the lake chooses to share. — Diane Jones




The word “Heliotrope” originates from Ancient Greek and it means “to turn toward the sun.” In the piece Heliotrope, there are fractals of leaving and returning, from the crescent-shaped sixteenth-note figures in the piano right hand, to the melody in all three voices whose tessitura spans an octave before returning to the note it started on, to the A-B-A form of the piece. Heliotrope is a celebration of the leaving and returning of the sun. The piece is also named for the flower, whose purple blooms inspired the otherworldly tone of the piece. — Katherine Price



Monday Morning

For many years, most of my projects had been concerned with the Anne Frank Diary and the Holocaust. A composer friend, Michelle DiBucci, thought it would be a good idea for me to write a lighter piece for a change, so she commissioned me to compose a trio. I accepted the assignment and wrote Monday Morning, which premiered in New York on June 11, 1999 with Kristina Cooper cellist, Laura Frautschi violinist, and pianist John Novacek.


Though not a literal piece of program music, I tried to capture the excitement and almost frantic quality of the new week and the commuter off to work. There is a slow middle section— it could be the wait in traffic and a time for reflection— or perhaps a coffee break… In any case, it lasts for a short time and then the opening section returns with renewed vigor, and the traffic moves on… or back to work! The piece is in one movement with three sections: Allegro Energetico, Andante, Tempo Primo. — Michael Cohen



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