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PROGRAM NOTES: Music of Our Time

Synchronous (2015)

Born 1978, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Note from the Composer

In 2014, I spent two months in an artist residency in Doha, Qatar. Far from everything and everyone I knew, I found comfort in social media websites, becoming obsessed with checking my phone and computer for news of my friends and family. I was many hours ahead of most people I knew.

One morning, I woke up unusually early and went outside. It was then, in Doha’s West Bay, that I saw the most beautiful sunrise. I was so overwhelmed by the power of that moment, that I ‘heard’ music in my head. Along with a haunting melody, came many thoughts, racing through my mind like electrical currents - thoughts that brought back old memories, and sounds and images of people and places I know. It was the strangest yet most startling experience I had in a long time, and for a few minutes, time seemed to have stopped.

After this trance, without even thinking, I reached for my phone. I wondered, what could have happened elsewhere during those five magical minutes I had just experienced? In a social media site, I looked backwards on a news feed and was amused by the variety of events that had taken place while I daydreamed. I saw posts of a medieval castle in France, ads for a carnival parade in Brazil, children playing with toys in America, a new house by a Caribbean beach which had been purchased by someone I know, a clip of gypsy music clip played by some friends in Spain… Faced with so many distant realities that are far gone by now, I thought it would be interesting to capture those moments in the form of music.

Synchronous is in two parts: I. Sunrise Reverie and II. News Feed. Sunrise Reverie is the daydream sequence: Melodious, yet infused with jolts of running passages, representing thoughts and ideas that sometimes come in and out of sync with each other. The second movement is swift, quirky and pretty much describes the elapsed events of the News Feed described above. Both movements end on the same chord, suggesting that such events indeed happened in succession.
                                                                                                                                                      - Clarice Assad

Ning for Pipa, Violin and Cello (2001)

Born 1967, New York
Note from the Composer

Death with Interruptions (2014) is a piano trio, written in variation form. The title, which comes from the novel by the Portuguese writer José Saramago, describes the chaos that ensues when one day people mysteriously stop dying. Soon afterwards Death herself enters the narrative and falls madly in love with a cellist. I was intrigued by Saramago’s portrait of death as a character, viewed through a multitude of prisms: the mysterious, the impulsive, the ridiculous, and the dispassionate.

A simple melody begins the trio and it moves through a series of transformations in mood, texture, and speed. Variations continually return to the musical heartbeat present in the opening song. Through disparate textures and tempi, the obsessive rhythm emerges as a fixed element bridging musical landscapes. I began writing the work in the months following the passing of my father Albert Bermel, to whom it is dedicated; he was a playwright, a teacher, a translator, and a great lover of farce, who never seemed to believe that Death would visit one day.                                                                                                                                                       - Derek Bermel

Ning for Pipa, Violin and Cello (2001)

Born 1953, Guangzhou, China
Note from the Composer

The mixed trio Ning was commissioned by the Chamber Music Society of Minnesota, in collaboration with the Asian-American communities of Minnesota, with funding from the Barlow Endowment for Music Composition at Brigham Young University and the Hoeschler Fund of the St. Paul Foundation, for the concert Hun Qiao (Bridge of Souls – A Concert of Remembrance and Reconciliation), to commemorate the little-known Asian Pacific Conflict of World War II. It was premièred by Young-Nam Kim, Yo-Yo Ma and Wu Man on May 30, 2001, at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in St. Paul, MN.

The Chinese character Ning is another name of the city Nanjing, the capital of China during the World War II. Ning also means serene and peaceful. Remembering so many horrible true stories told by my parents repeatedly with anger and passion, who experienced the Japanese invasion in China, I sincerely accepted the invitation from the CMSM, to compose a piece of music for “calling the soul back to a resting place”, to remember the Asian Holocaust — 1937 Nanjing Massacre, and to look forward to the peace of the world in the future.

The music is composed in a dramatic shape, symbolizing the sound of atrocious violence and tragic scenes, hysteric crying and miserable sorbing, gripping meditation and illusive fantasy, performed on the bowing and plucking instruments, combining unique styles and performing techniques in the music of East and West, in an abstract form and texture.                                                                                                                                                       - Chen Yi

Spring Ahead Quintet for Clarinet and String Quartet (2015)

Born 1935, Ames, Iowa
Note from the Composer

My mother played clarinet in college, and she still had her old instrument when I was a boy. As it became obvious that I was getting seriously interested in playing it, I was sent to Bert McGarrity, a very fine clarinetist in town, for lessons. He listened to me play for about a minute and a half and said, “Peter, you’ve already got so many bad habits on the clarinet that it would be easier for you to start another instrument,” and that’s how I became Fargo, North Dakota’s only bassoonist. Maybe North Dakota’s only bassoonist.

But I retained a fondness for the clarinet, and over the years I’ve written for all the common chamber music combinations involving the instrument, as well as one not-so-common combination: Monochrome III, for nine clarinets. The most highly regarded of those combinations is the clarinet quintet, for clarinet and string quartet, and I’m glad that, after a lifetime of entering sketches for such a piece into my notebooks, I finally had the impetus to write a whole work.

My pieces are often associated in my mind with seasons, and the lively, lyrical nature of the opening ideas of this work suggested the title Spring Forward, although a later section of the first movement is calmer and perhaps more summery. It’s best not to get too worked up about titles.

The second movement is slow and smooth, with a hint of country fiddling in the accompaniment to the middle section. The third movement is a traditional scherzo-trio-scherzo layout; it is followed by a brief, surprising soft interlude that leads to the finale, named after a perfect picnic my wife and I had at sunset on the Claremont Estate on the east side of the Hudson River.

Spring Ahead was co-commissioned by Chamber Music Northwest and La Jolla Music Society for SummerFest; it was completed on October 24, 2014. and premiered on July 18, 2015 in Portland, Oregon by the David Shifrin and the Miró Quartet, and on August 25, 2015 in La Jolla, California by Burt Hara and the Huntington Quartet.                                                                                                                                                       - Peter Schickele