Av Kitane Mansa is my most recent, standalone, contemporary classical composition that has been performed. Performed early 2017 by a group of independently hired professional musicians, it is one of the pieces I am most proud of to date. This time of the year was the introduction to many new things for me as a composer. The task given to us by my mentor Kevin James was to write in a style that we were unfamiliar with, and make it our own. I chose Gypsy music. This was the first time that I had experimented with prepared piano, generating something akin to the cimbalom, a hammered percussion instrument. It was the most performers that I had written for at that time (12), and was also the first time using a specific cadence in order to convey the location of the song. On top of this, my class of composers had to hire a group of musicians on own. There was quite a bit of new material, but I think it helped me to learn even more and really push the boundaries of my composing.
This piece’s title is derived from a Gypsy love chant “Av,mi Romani mal / Pawdel dur chumbas / Av kitane mansa?” that roughly translates to “Come my Gypsy friend, over the hills so far away. Will you come along with me?” This piece starts with an agitaded con fuoco section, creating a sense of imbalance with shifting meters. Once the steady guitar pulse comes in, flourishes in the other instruments pervade before introducing the odd meter bass line, and finally getting to the “chorus” of the song. The clarinet and trombone melody is later found to be the source of the lyrics, after the vocalists are added in. A stripped down section featuring dumbek and cimbalom leads to a more classically influenced string section, before building and stripping away into a cimbalom solo/cadenza. This leads to the reintroduction of the guitar pulse and, finally, the addition of vocalists into the main chorus, showing how the piece got its name. Overall, I am incredibly proud of this piece, and incredibly thankful to everyone involved, especially Kevin James, as always.
This piece, composed in early 2016 is one of my more obtuse works, written at the time simply for the sake of being obtuse. The main harmony seen in the jabs towards the beginning as well as towards the end of the piece were derived from sitting at the piano trying to find the most dissonant combination in a three note “chord,” which I figured to be a tritone followed by a half step. In hindsight, my journey into extended dissonance could have been started somewhere besides vocal music. After all, there is a reason that voices are the primary instruments used in church music. They are generally seen as holy, as what instruments are trying to imitate. From a technical standpoint, it is also naturally harder for for vocalists to sing horribly dissonant music without any tonal center. Fortunately I was blessed with the opportunity to work with the group EKMELES, who are extremely talented and always open for a challenge. Still, these are things that you must take into account while writing for vocalists, which I certainly did not.
That’s not to say that I hate the piece, however, or that it has no redeeming factors at all. This piece focuses on sparseness and use of space, as well as extended techniques such as whispers, spoken word, and simulating wind by making shhhhh noises. The text is taken from T.S Eliot’s The Hollow Men, which is one of my favorite works of poetry by him and I think conveys a powerful message. The dark, emotive lyrics are reflected by the dissonant harmonic content and screaming high notes, especially from the soprano. Chanting is often a source of rhythmic drive, when it actually exists in the piece, and has become a frequently used tool for my other compositions featuring lyrics. This composition features disparate elements, moments of scarcity and moments of intensity, in which I try to emulate the calm sections of Eliot, as well as the storm. Although not the catchiest or most emotional of my pieces, I am still proud of the work I’ve done, and entirely thankful to EKMELES and my mentor Kevin James, who steered me in the direction I wanted to go in and made my vision as great as it could be.
My first reading with the American Composers Orchestra, under the direction of the amazing and wonderful composer Kevin James. Conceived in early 2016, this piece focuses on extended string techniques, mainly using the cello as a drum. It begins with a dissonant chorale, easing into an E minor chord before delving into the meat of the piece. The 5/4 groove in the cello beating and viola ostinato creates a bright and jolly feeling, before descending into greater lengths of screaming dissonant violin hell. A brief transitional period leads to a restatement of the chorale from earlier, followed by a light pizzicato section that slowly builds up into a driving viola rhythm and even more cello drumming. I finally restate the original “chorus” with counterpoint in all instruments, since the cello seemed to be getting closer to a percussionist at this point, before ending it on a cheerful note. While this is one of my older pieces and I have some qualms about my lack of theoretical knowledge at the time and the cohesiveness of the piece, it is still one of the pieces that I am the most proud of, and I sincerely hope you enjoy it.