I. Echoes from the Precipice
II. Strange Departures
III. Leaving Independence Pass
Duration: 23 minutes
Commissioned by Drs. Jerry and Barbara Young for performance by Brian Bowman, Neal Corwell, Steven Mead, John Mueller, and David Werden, with pianist Barbara Young. Winner of the 2012 Harvey Phillips Award from the International Tuba Euphonium Association.
As a child of the cold war, some of my most vivid memories include the meetings between U.S. President Ronald Reagan, and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. Termed “summit conferences,” the world seemed to wait on pins and needles as the latest agreements (or disagreements) between its greatest powerbrokers about nuclear armament reverberated their way around the globe. At the same time, growing up in the western United States, I was fascinated with mountains: their rugged beauty, their surprising variety, the secrets known only by those who would venture beyond the wellknown trails. Hence, the title of this work, Summit, seems appropriate at a number of levels as it represents not only a meeting of great players, but a set of pieces with vast physical and artistic demands that evoke, to me, representations of mountains both literal, and figurative.
The first movement, “Echoes from the Precipice,” is a study of the sonority of echoes. Each player enters in turn from a cluster deep in the bass, emerging in a steady ascent of layered polyrhythms. Sonorous consonances gradually build to tense dissonances that eventually give way to grand vistas of unanticipated harmonic arrival points.
The second movement, “Strange Departures,” was composed for Neal Corwell, and generates drama through the juxtaposition of sections of contrasting character. Much of the movement’s pitch material was derived from a 12‐tone row based on pitches from the name C‐O‐R‐W‐E‐L‐L. By assigning letters from the alphabet numbers between 0 and 11, a name can literally generate a melody. While I am not an ardent serialist, the pitch possibilities spanning consonance to dissonance were fascinating. Each reading of the basic pitch material takes the players down unexpected, maybe even forbidding, paths.
Composed for Dave Werden, “Leaving Independence Pass” comes next. The title is indulgently autobiographical as it represents the end of the last summer I spent as a student at the Aspen Music Festival. Instead of heading down the valley toward the interstate on our way home, we opted to go up and over Independence Pass. Well above the tree line at 12,000 feet, one experiences a bit of lightheadedness at the astounding view of the Rocky Mountains from that height. That summer, 2002, was also the last summer before my brother‐in‐law, Anthony Quayle was diagnosed with, and succumbed to, cancer. The movement opens with a reference to an orchestra piece of mine that was performed at the festival that summer, and then gives way to pitch motives based on notes derived from the name W‐E‐R‐D‐E‐N. A surprise visit by other ‘dignitaries’ interrupts the soloist—but the soloist gets the last word.
The fourth movement, “Olympus,” represents an assault on a mythological mountain. Composed for Steven Mead, it is an angular and physical test of character. Based also on a series of notes derived from the name M‐E‐A‐D (in actuality a 3‐note cell comprised of a major third, minor third, and a minor second), the movement pits the player against seemingly insurmountable odds:
register, breath, tempo, rhythm, etc. In summary, the sentiment is reminiscent of my friends who enjoyed running up steep mountain trails in pursuit of a reckless bit of fun.
Emerging from the madness of the foregoing movement, movement five, “Moriah,” is largely plaintive and serene. Composed for Brian Bowman, the title refers to the mountain of biblical fame where it is said that Abraham went to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice to God. Much of the movement features imitation between soloist and piano, as the soloist follows the pianist’s winding path in and through new harmonic areas. Set in a tonal, yet harmonically meandering pitch fabric, the general direction of the tessitura is up—until the arrival of an unanticipated interruption, as the story goes….
The final movement, “Ascent,” composed for John Mueller, begins with the mystical reverie of Tibetan prayer bowls and low, humming voices. Again, using pitches derived from a name, M‐U‐E‐L‐L-E‐R provides rich source material used melodically, and harmonically (especially in the bell‐like piano chords in the outer portions of the movement). An acknowledgement of the spiritual association of mountains for some, one might envision Tibetan prayer flags whipping in the wind at the base of Mt. Everest. Based on a slowly ascending melodic course, an acceleration of tempo and heightening register opens up to a vast expanse, inviting the other players to join in again. After a recapitulation of
themes and motives from the first movement, our soloist again emerges to conclude the work in an aura of hopeful mystery, punctuated by a final chord in the ensemble, echoing into oblivion from the summit….
Concert Premiere: May 26, 2010 at the International Tuba Euphonium Conference in Tucson, AZ.