Year Composed: 2017
Instrumentation: clarinet, piano
Duration 23 minutes

I Clear
II Shimmer
III Fissure
IV Below

Program Notes

Confessions was commissioned by the clarinetist Yao Guang Zhai with private assistance from Rolf Reininghaus. It is intended as a standalone work for clarinet and piano, but it was also composed with the understanding that it would serve as the template for an eventual Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra.

The musical form of Confessions is meant to mimic the structure of an iceberg—a gleaming surface obscuring a dark, weighty mass beneath. The movement titles—Clear, Shimmer, Fissure, Below—are poetic reflections of this initial conception. For me, the iceberg is also a metaphor for human consciousness, in the sense that the deepest and most elemental parts of ourselves—our subconscious fears, desires, and our limitless capacity for self-preservation—far eclipse our more rationalistic personas.

The first movement (“Clear”) is largely pictorial: frosty piano dyads support a series of undulating clarinet trills and growls. Eventually the texture ‘clears’ and the clarinet takes flight over a bed of lush sonorities, like a bird surveying a panoramic vista on a crystal-clear day. The second movement (“Shimmer”) opens with the work’s only clarinet cadenza before segueing into a drifting soundscape of jazz-inflected piano chords, around which the clarinet utters a variety of languid phrases. The music here is intimate, delighting in small details, but occasional moments of restlessness grow more and more perturbed as the movement unfolds. The third movement (“Fissure”) arrives with startling violence, plunging us into a dark new world, like an ever-widening crack on the surface of a frozen lake. Savage piano chords and cyclonic clarinet runs bookend a more a lyrical middle section.

The long, final movement (“Below”), represents my own attempt to investigate my own lived experience and, in doing so, attempt to achieve some kind of reconciliation with my inner self; hence the title of this work, Confessions. Feelings of grief over the recent loss of a family member, intermingled with more abstract vignettes, eventually culminate in a melody of child-like simplicity and longing, like the resurfacing of a cherished memory.

Commissions and Awards

  • Commissioned by Yao Guang Zhai, with generous assistance from Rolf Reininghaus.

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