I’ve saved this for a separate post. Bowling Green programmed two pieces, both by chance world premieres. One was a fiendish little sonatina for clarinet and piano, just four and a half minutes long, and bristling with difficulty. The first two movements have the clarinet and piano playing separate pieces at the same time, with independent forms, independent phrase shapes, and bar lines and constantly changing time signatures that rarely intersect. The challenge is to forget your normal ensemble instincts, and keep the two parts independent. Then the third movement brings the players together in some tumultuous unison craziness, modeled on a jazz solo, which goes as fast as it can be played, involves jagged, irregular rhythms, and also features cruel leaps in the clarinet part (as well as giving the clarinetist no time to breathe).
This got aced by Kevin Schempf (who had the very smart idea to play the first movement, which goes very high, on E flat clarinet), and Robert Satterlee. When they’d finished, the large audience erupted in whoops and cheers, which didn’t exactly make me unhappy. Then, the next day, a student with piercings who worked at the town’s used bookstore told me she’d loved the piece. Small towns are wonderful!
The other piece was a group of five songs for soprano and piano, based on women’s monologues from Shakespeare. This also isn’t easy music, ranging very high and low in the soprano part, and also featuring some tricky, knotted rhythms and emotions that sometimes get fairly intense. The first song, on top of that, lives in ambiguous territory midway between melody and declamation; I’m not sure the balance of the two is easy to get right.
I hadn’t had a chance to work with the people who did these songs, soprano Ann Corrigan and pianist I-Chen Yeh. So when I sat down in the concert hall to hear them, I had no idea what to expect. To my delight, the songs emerged exactly as I’d conceived them, including some finely detailed nuances. All these were carefully notated in the score, I’d hoped, but you never quite know how clearly a score is going to speak to the people bringing it to life. In this case, there didn’t seem to be any problems. Ann projected the drama and emotions of each song, with lots of informed sympathy; I-Chen stood out for her firm and joyful precision (which was really welcome in the tangled rhythms).
For anyone curious, I’ve put the scores of both pieces online, along with computer realizations of the music. (When I get recordings from Bowling Green,
I’ll put those online, too.) Here are the links.
Sonatina for Clarinet and Piano
http://www.gregsandow.com/music/cl-pno.pdf Score (which I’m revising, to include the E flat clarinet in the first movement)
http://www.gregsandow.com/music/cl_piano_demo.m3u Music Shakespeare Songs