Circle Through New York: Contemporary Ensemble Compositions with Guggenheim Staff

My senior year at Frank Sinatra High School has been one of the more fruitful times artistically for me. Much of this was due to my participation in the school’s newly founded Contemporary Ensemble. This small group of 10 people was the first time that there was a class period dedicated to composition in the school, and cumulated in a final set of variations being performed by the ensemble. Master classes with Berklee professors and professional composers made this class one of the more productive classes at this school, and I am proud to have been one of the founding members.

In any event, I was fortunate enough to have the Guggenheim’s project Circle Through New York “circle through” my school, and even more fortunate to have them “circle through” contemporary ensemble. We were tasked with arranging the world’s oldest song in any way we saw fit, and we have been told that our works will be played on NPR and/or displayed in the Guggenheim itself. Despite our tight deadline I think we produced some great results, and I hope you enjoy our work!

Falls the Shadow

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.

Sounds Like String Quartet

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.