“Badinerie Squared” on Performance Today

I heard from Fred Child, host of APM’s Performance Today, that my flute duet, Badinerie Squared, will be heard at about 20 minutes into the 2nd hour of the program this Friday, March 3. The performers are Mimi Stillman and Jeffrey Khaner, from a concert in Philadelphia in 2015. Starting Friday morning, go here to stream the program. It will be available online for 30 days.

End-of-January Miscellany

Things have been quiet here at Secret Geometry lately, mostly because I have been concentrating on making progress with the Oboe Quartet I am writing for Peggy Pearson and Winsor Music. But I want to catch up on a few things:

– my Meditation for Candlemas will be heard at this Sunday’s Eucharist at Emmanuel Church, Boston – 10 AM service, Ryan Turner conducts. This was the first piece I wrote for Emmanuel back in 1994; seven more motets have followed. (Check the worklist and audio excerpt links above)

– here are some pictures from the Dolce Suono Ensemble premiere of Badinerie Squared. Flutists Mimi Stillman and Jeffrey Khaner were brilliant in my little duet. Here they are with colleagues Charles Abramovic, harpsichord and Gabriel Cabezas, cello – the four offered works by C. P. E. and J. S. Bach as part of the program.

Mimi had invited a long list of composers to write short pieces for this program, here’s are most of them, as well as the performers:

L to R: Jeffrey Khaner, myself, Robert Maggio, Charles Abramovic, Heidi Jacob, Mimi Stilman, Gabriel Cabezas, Jeremy Gill, and Jan Kryzwicki.

– the other concert that I haven’t written about was the “Voice of the Wail!” program at Penn on January 23. Maureen Francis and Matt Bengston did a beautiful job with two songs from my Holy the Firm, as well as Waltzing the Spheres. Here we are after the program:


Francis JP Bengston

Penn alum Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon was our guest for the concert, with three impressive short pieces. His piano trio, Jácaras, was especially striking: economical, full of quicksilver gestures. Here he is after the program:



– The New York premiere of Waltzing the Spheres will be on the February 10 New York Festival of Song program at OPERA America’s National Opera Center, 330 Seventh Avenue (at 29th Street). I don’t know who the performers are yet, but I do know I have consistently heard strong performances on NYFOS concerts.

OK, time to get back to composing and let the blog get back to napping. I expect to be here more often in a few weeks.


Flute to the Power of Two

Yesterday I finished my little flute duet for January 18th’s Dolce Suono concert at Trinity Center here in Philadelphia. Mimi Stillman asked me and a number of colleagues to contribute short pieces inspired by Bach for a program honoring her teacher, Julius Baker. Andrea Clearfield, Richard Danielpour, Daniel Dorff, Jeremy Gill, Heidi Jacob, Jan Krzywicki, Robert Maggio and myself are all writing pieces for the occasion. My piece takes off from the Badinerie, the closing movement of Bach’s orchestral suite in B minor. (A badinerie is a scherzo in duple meter; I don’t know of any examples of the term outside of a few Baroque pieces. I suppose it is related to “badinage” or “banter”.) While the original movement features a single flute with strings and continuo, I have concocted a duet for two flutes alone – hence the name Badinerie Squared. The piece is based on motifs from the Bach but with some playful distortions of the harmony. Here is a snippet of the original:

original bach

And here is the opening of my duet:

jp opening

Other versions of the opening downward arpeggio include these:

jp bach #2

and later there is an inverted form as well.

There is a good bit of harmonic slip-sliding going on in this light-hearted piece that might bring Prokofieff to mind — or, given the character of the motifs, P.D.Q. Bach!

Mimi will be joined for my piece by Jeffrey Khaner, principal flute of the Philadelphia Orchestra and another Julius Baker pupil. Jeff premiered my A Flutist’s Sketchbook not that long ago.

A Sweet-Sounding Invention

Dolce Suono has announced its 2014-15 season – the group’s 10th anniversary –  and I happy to report that I will be participating in their tribute to the legendary flutist Julius Baker next January 18. Along with seven other composers, I’ll be contributing a short invention for two flutes, to be played by Jeffrey Khaner and Mimi Stillman who were both students of Baker. Jeff is the principal flute of the Philadelphia Orchestra and played the premiere of my flute and piano piece earlier this season, while Mimi is the founder of Dolce Suono.

Watch an 11-year old Mimi perform with her teacher here.

More “Sketchbook” Thoughts

Charles Abramovic and Jeffrey Khaner offered a exceptionally fine recital last week at the Settlement Music School here in Philadelphia. I have been blessed with many wonderful performances over the years, including work by top-rank flutists, but Jeffrey Khaner’s performance of my new A Flutist’s Sketchbook last week featured some uncommon playing. He gets a luscious sound from his instrument, with variety of color and intensely beautiful tone in every register and at every dynamic level. Charlie has played my music several times in the past, including the Network for New Music recording of Dream Journal, so I was already familiar with his unostentatious virtuosity. The Sketchbook is a grab-bag of styles, beginning with a simple diatonic chorale, and ending with a set of variations on “Be Thou My Vision”, with stops along the way for pieces that are modal, twelve-tone, and places in between. I had thought of the 13 pieces as being in a somewhat arbitrary order, though moving roughly from straightforward to more complex, and had even thought that performers could devise new orderings of the pieces, but friends told me the order I gave the work made a satisfying arc. It’s not a piece for those who insist on a consistency of style in a multi-movement work, but I have often preferred breadth of expression over uniformity of vocabulary.

Thank you to the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society for its ongoing commitment to new music in general and Philadelphia composers in particular with commissions such as the one that made A Flutist’s Sketchbook possible.

My premiere opened the concert. Charlie continued the program with the Carter Piano Sonata. This is a piece I want to like more than I do. It’s relatively early Carter, with key signatures and passages that are diatonic, but somehow the pitches don’t “tell”, just as the pitches don’t quite make sense in a some of Carter’s later music. The work is a big conception, with grand gestures that contrast with scurrying figuration that brought to mind the similarly scurrying but decidedly non-diatonic figures in Carter’s Night Fantasies from more than 30 years later. Charlie got the striking passages with harmonics to speak more clearly than in other performances I have heard, and he commanded the declamatory, florid, and reflective aspects of the piece with his customary assurance.

Dick Wernick’s Pieces of Eight was the other premiere of the evening, a set of eight short movements for solo piano. The set includes occasional pieces with dedications to friends and colleagues. The Wernickian wit was much in evidence, as in a piano version of the little piece he wrote for Network for New Music’s Diabelli Variation project a few years ago. Though they may be relatively light pieces, Dick’s always masterful craftsmanship remained in play.

The program ended with Copland’s flute and piano Duo. I hold Copland in very high esteem, but the Duo, his last major work, is not one of his best pieces, and even as fine a performance as this couldn’t make up for the lack of inspiration.

Here are Charlie and Jeff taking a bow after the Copland:


“Sketchbook” and “Holy the Firm” pictures

Here I am with Charlie Abramovic and Jeffrey Khaner after the concert at Settlement Music School here in Philadelphia where they premiered my new set of pieces for flute and piano (that’s Charlie on the left)

IMG_3544And a shot from tonight’s concert by Mary Mackenzie and Eric Sedgwick; from left Richard Wernick, Eric, myself, Mary, and George Crumb:


a few more pictures yet to come, plus some comments on the concerts – brilliant performances both nights!

“Sketchbook” Premiere

A quick reminder that I hope to see those of you who are in Philly at tonight’s premiere of A Flutist’s Sketchbook performed by Jeffrey Khaner and Charles Abramovic – details here. I heard a rehearsal last week – I knew these guys are first rate,  but when you hear the sheer beauty of sound, the musical intelligence, the virtuosity, all put at the service of your own stuff, you realize more profoundly how incredibly fine these musicians are.

Almost a Festival

If one performance is a concert, do two performances in quick succession in the same town constitute a festival? I don’t know about that, but there is a happy coincidence next week when my Philadelphia Chamber Music Society commission A Flutist’s Sketchbook will have its premiere on Tuesday, Oct. 22, and the next night Holy the Firm will be performed by soprano Mary Mackenzie and pianist Eric Sedgwick. Here are the details:

October 22, 2013 at 8:00 pm:
A Flutist’s Sketchbook (premiere)
Jeffrey Khaner, flute
Charles Abramovic, piano
Philadelphia Chamber Music Society
Settlement Music School
Queen Street Branch
Philadelphia, PA

October 23, 2013 at 8:00 pm
Holy the Firm
Mary Mackenzie, soprano
Eric Sedgwick, piano
Penn Contemporary Music
Rose Recital Hall (in Fisher-Bennett Hall)
34th and Walnut Streets
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA

Jeffrey Khaner is the principal flute of the Philadelphia Orchestra; Charles Abramovic is a renowned chamber music partner, working with artists such as Midori and Sarah Chang as well as being a stalwart advocate for new music. I am greatly honored to have them perform my music. The commission was for a work accessible to players of modest attainments while remaining satisfying for professionals. I was uncertain as to exactly where to target the piece, and therefore this is a set of “13 easy and not so easy pieces” as the work’s subtitle describes it. Given the simplicity of some of the music, it strikes me that having Jeff and Charlie play the Sketchbook is like using nuclear weapons to kill a mosquito. Still, it will be a thrill to hear their formidable gifts put at the service of this modest music.

In contrast, Holy the Firm is rather immodest music. Written as it was for Dawn Upshaw and Gilbert Kalish, this time I tried to make a big statement commensurate with the capabilities of those artists. Dawn specifically wanted a cycle, not an individual song, so H the F is a set of five movements, shaped by an expressive arc that binds the songs together quite literally – the songs follow each other with little or no pause (although individual songs can be extracted and performed separately, as has happened on many occasions). There are motivic recurrences that also tie the pieces together, with material from the first three songs (settings of Denise Levertov, Annie Dillard and the 7th century monk John Climacus) recurring in the finale, a kind of mad scene setting a found poem also by Annie Dillard. The expressive fulcrum of the piece is based on Susan Stewart’s Cinder, the first of 10 poems of Susan’s I have set, (with more settings to come). Here is Susan’s haunting text:

We need fire to make
the tongs and tongs to hold
us from the flame; we needed
ash to clean the cloth
and cloth to clean the ash’s
stain; we needed stars
to find our way, to make
the light that blurred the stars;
we needed death to mark
an end, an end that time
in time, could mend.
Born in love, the consequence –
born of love, the need.
Tell me, ravaged singer,
how the cinder bears the seed.