Nonet

(for New York)

Year: 2002

Instrumentation: fl, ob, cl, hn, bn, 2vns, va, vc

Duration: 35 minutes

Program Notes

Nonet was composed shortly after hearing Bohuslav Martinu’s Nonet for the first time, with an aim towards achieving the same buoyant, passionate and optimistic expressiveness. The combination of a standard woodwind quintet plus a standard string quartet is a slight departure from the “Czech” nonet, which employs a single violin and a doublebass. As I worked with the orchestral colors that this combination of instruments makes possible, I decided to make the work a ‘quasi’ concerto, and rather than balance the strings evenly, gave the first violinist a prominent role to play.

As it often does, life intervened to influence this piece – this time more so than usual. I started writing it during the summer of 2001, and was part way through the first movement on September 11th. That changed everything – as I found myself unable to write for months afterwards. Besides being preoccupied by the task of dealing with the disaster at work, writing music just seemed pointless in the face of the horror of that terrible event. Months later, having concluded that the awful things that some people seem willing to do to one another make it all the more necessary for others to strive to create beautiful things, I started back to work on the Nonet, completing it in the Spring.

The piece starts out trying to convey something of the energy and motion of people in a big city going about their busy day – however this forward motion is broken, to resume, post 9/11, with the nine voices joined together in a hymn-like reprise. The juxtaposition of energetic motion with somber reflection, entirely unanticipated at the beginning, came to characterize the Nonet. The second movement is a gentle song. Somehow, the emotional strain of events caused me to start listening, rather obsessively, to Bruckner symphonies during this period, and the third and final movement is somewhat indebted to his penchant for orchestrating groups in blocks, even if stylistically very different.

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