Clarinet Quintet, op. 55

This piece was a 40th birthday commission for my friend Jeremy Rosenberg, a fellow music major in the class of 2005 at the University of Chicago. It was commissioned by Jeremy’s siblings Michael and Shoshana. Jeremy and I go way back, so there was a lot of personal material to include in this piece.

As a starting point, I wanted somehow to reflect on my college days. I considered re-working a string quartet that I wrote in my sophomore year, but upon reviewing it, I thought it was total garbage. However, I thought I could do something with the main motivic idea. I played around with it, but it only ended up appearing in a disguised form in one bar of the introduction.

The timing of this commission — and its accompanied walk down memory lane — was interesting, because I began writing it right around the time that my former teacher, Easley Blackwood, died in January 2023. Easley’s death kindled many thoughts and feelings, but as a sort of backhanded way of honoring him, I based a couple of the principal themes in this piece on the circle of fifths, which he always said was “the last refuge of the damned,” compositionally.

Jeremy and I really clicked in college when we realized that we were the only two people who knew, cared about, and loved Leonard Bernstein’s MASS, so I quoted one of the motives from that piece in the quintet.

Before this piece, I had been keen to write a minuet for some time, and I thought this would be a nice opportunity.

Jeremy is a big klezmer fan, hence the third movement. I grew up going to plenty of Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, so it came somewhat easily to me, and Jeremy said I had carte blanche to culturally appropriate from his heritage.

The final movement is a sonata-rondo form with an ostinato that moves through the string parts, and I’m very proud of how cleverly I was able to make it work while still creating variety in the harmony and recalling music from the previous movements.