for seventeen solo strings or string orchestra (2000)
- Premiere: 7 May 2000 / The Ethical Culture Society of New York, New York City / The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra
- Instrumentation: string orchestra or seventeen strings
- Duration: 20'
- Dedication: Commissioned by the Corporation of Yaddo in celebration of the centennial of Yaddo for performance by the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, 2000.
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- Minute Scherzo
Late one evening at Yaddo during summer 1983, half-asleep, reading Romaine Rolland's Jean Christophe at the foot of the broad staircase that flows downwards from an enormous Tiffany window depicting the woman who, along with her husband, founded the estate, in a pretty white dress bound tenderly at the waist by a pale blue ribbon, I intuited — in the same way that a driver "sees" a child streaking out of a suburban front yard into the street to capture a ball — a woman descending that very staircase dressed in the same flowing white dress. Her right hand was slightly raised, as though holding a candle, a telegram, a poem, or a letter. I believe that I saw an angel that night — the spirit of Katrina Trask.
Accordingly, when asked to compose a work honoring the spirit of Yaddo on the occasion of the one hundredth anniversary of the Corporation's founding, my thoughts turned to that evening in 1983.
The first movement (Wings) is marked "in puffs, like wind under wings." It is comprised mainly of rolling canons — imitative strands of musical pitches that, when spaced out properly, are the aural equivalent of waves of air or water. The second movement (Prayer) is a lovingly executed fugue based on the ancient plainchant that eventually became the melody we know as O Come, Emmanuel. It figures as the second movement of my Symphony No. 3. The third movement (Minute Scherzo) is a sixty-second long palindrome based on a synthetic scale with two augmented seconds in it. The final movement (Couples) is a quick rondo in which every instrument has a musical doppelganger which shadows it either rhythmically or melodically. On the Yaddo estate there is a stone tower nestled deep in the woods between two small lakes. I composed this movement there.
Composed in celebration of the Corporation of Yaddo's Centennial Celebration, Angels was first performed by the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra on May 7th, 2000 at the Ethical Culture Society of New York.
(Banner photo: the Yaddo Mansion)