Composing for chamber ensemble is appealing because each project involves personal relationships and collaborations with a handful of talented performers. the resulting piece allows the musicians to shine with virtuosity and passion, while the melodies flow with lyricism and weave intricate counterpoint.
When I was growing up in the 1980s, I had a rather large cassette tape collection with many different types of music; my friends and I spent much of our time browsing through each other’s sets and listening to diverse rock albums. ‘Press Play’ is designed to represent the format of an EP album, though the music contained is a mix of styles. Track 1 is a chorale-style introductory movement that features the bassoon in brief solo passages between the chordal string sections. Hit Single is basically a pop song for bassoon and strings. In Deep Cut, the instruments explore a slow contrapuntal texture; the title refers to an obscure type of track on an album that radio stations are less likely to air, except perhaps on late night shows. Deep Cut accelerates in the second half, and moves almost directly into Hidden Track, named for a type of song that some albums “hide” after all the popular songs are over. Hidden Track also features an acceleration from beginning to end, and has a style and format similar to process music.
Big Kahuna is a term that means, among other things, a monster wave or a surfer who rides them. I grew up in Southern California, and experienced firsthand the thrill of riding waves, the rush of adrenaline and feeling of peace before and after the ride. The composition for solo flute follows the emotions of a surfrider, from the calmness when entering the water, to getting past the breakers; then waiting for the right wave, and finally riding it and heading back to shore. The melodic lines use mostly symmetrical scales, some with little tension and others with more chromaticism, as the listener rides the ups and downs of the flute waves.
The ‘Energy’ Sonata was composed for Elisabeth Adkins and Edward Newman, a renowned violin and piano duo. The idea was to create a work that would draw inspiration from TCU’s theme for the year 2016: Energy. In the first movement, ‘Flow,’ the piano focuses on relentless scalar lines, while the violin plays at times lyrical, and other times forceful passages. The middle movement, Whirl, is entirely made up of original folk-like melodies, and is designed to sound like a modern arrangement of tunes, similar to what Béla Bartók did in the early 20th century in his many folk arrangements. The final movement begins with a prelude, much like a slow chorale; the quiet energy in this introduction prepares us for the ‘Tornado’ of the rest of the piece. Modal lines of canonic counterpoint in the piano are echoed in the violin, and when the complex contrapuntal texture breaks, what emerges is a jazz-like section, followed by quiet, slow repose and then a violin cadenza; finally, a return to the faster material brings the piece to a rousing finale. The ‘Energy’ Sonata explores energy in various forms and implications, a story of natural forces told in music.
Composed for Trio 8831, ‘Open Road’ is a three-movement work for trumpet, trombone, and piano that is a musical imagining of driving in a fast car through Europe. The first movement, ‘Shift,’ is about a drive through winding roads in rugged hills and mountains. Movement two, ‘Touring,’ regards blurred images through the window of the quickly-moving vehicle. In the final movement, ‘Velocity,’ jazz influence plays strongly into this rendition of a fast drive in a powerful car.
force of nature
Composed for Shauna Thompson and Janet Pummill, ‘Force of Nature’ is a three-movement sonata for flute and piano that considers natural forces that are unseen, but whose powerful effects are nonetheless evident. In the first movement, Prevailing Winds, the piano presents a flurry of chord clusters that yield to an introductory flute melody. Ostinato patterns, prevalent throughout most of the movement in the piano, support the flute lines with a rhythmic drive. An extended flute cadenza explores motives presented to close the movement. The middle movement, Reflection/Refraction, reveals a slowly building spectrum of string and wind colors. Dissonance Tango continues and amplifies the push and pull of tensions, focusing on the power of passion as it develops in the heat of the Latin dance.
'Brilliant Blue' was written for Joe Eckert, alto saxophone, and Janet Pummill, piano. As with many of my works, the title helped me visualize the music as I composed it. To me, 'Brilliant Blue' presented an image of vitality, yet with the implications of both jazz and of quieter moods that blue brings with it. The first movement is through composed: It begins with a saxophone solo that returns toward the end, and has highly contrapuntal piano lines in various middle sections. The second movement has a subtitle: Bad News Beethoven.” My then four-year-old son used to play stormy music on the piano, saying, “Papa, this is bad news Beethoven.” The obvious opening motive quickly gives way to a moderate groove with a very jazzy feel. The final movement contains fragments of melody, chords, and counterpoint that I have been saving and wanting to use; they seemed to go together well, so I arranged them into one movement. The piano takes the role of playing ostinati (repeated patterns) much of the time, while the saxophone sings its melodies as counterpoint. 'Brilliant Blue' can be purchased through ALRY Publications at http://www.alrypublications.com/meyn-brilliant-blue/.
'Tango Royale' was written in 2013 for the clarinetists of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra (clarinet quartet). The style of the piece follows that of an Argentinian tango, and evokes the spirit of music by Astor Piazzolla. Cast in a single movement, the work weaves its way through different thematic areas, though its form is basically in a fast-slow-fast format, with an introduction and coda. Rich with sensuous melodies and tango rhythms, 'Tango Royale' takes the listener on a journey south of the equator and back to a time of mystique and passion.
'Revolutions' was completed in 2012 for Jesús Castro-Balbi and Gloria Lin, for its premiere at Weill Recital Hall, Carnegie Hall. The title of the one-movement work has two implications: With the unrest and recent regime overthrows in the Middle East, the thought of meaningful and positive change transformed into a musical inspiration for the work; I also translated revolution as a turning or revolving of tonalities in the music. Both images provided musical ideas for the piece, which begins with solo opportunities for each player, and then moves into a churning piano ostinato with sequenced cello melodic patterns. The patterns build to a dissonant chordal section, which gives way first to pointillistic accompaniment and cello pizzicato, and then to soaring melodies and lush harmonies. The brief finale interrupts the passionate strains, and reminds us of the violence and fury that is inherent in revolution. Throughout the piece, tension and release in its many guises seeks a musical balance that mirrors some of the challenges we face in our diverse modern world.
wall of babel
My colleague from the School for Classical and Contemporary Dance at TCU, Suki John, met with me in 2011 to discuss a collaborative project. What resulted was a trio of instruments (saxophone, percussion, and piano) that would accompany dancers: 'Wall of Babel.' I drew my musical ideas from an archive of Spanish folk music, relying heavily on the idioms of the songs for melodic ideas. Suki and her TCU dancers performed the work beautifully the following spring, and then took the piece to Havana and Matanzas, Cuba, where it was received well. The work can also be performed as a trio without dancers, in which case I call it 'Gypsy Dances.'