An Hour of Newly Recorded Music

Well, not quite an hour, but pretty close.

First up, Clarinet Quintet, op. 55, a piece that I wrote as a birthday gift for my college buddy Jeremy. It was commissioned by his siblings for his fortieth birthday. The birthday gift was the first movement. The second, third, and fourth movements were gravy because I wanted to make it into a full work. (Much the same thing happened with my trio for horn, viola, and piano.)

What was fun about this project was that I had the first movement premiered (with Jeremy in the audience) in Seattle by some friends over the summer. Hearing the first movement clarified for me what I wanted to do with the rest of the piece, and the latter movements were composed very quickly.

The demo recording was made in Portland with musicians from the Oregon Symphony, most notably their principal clarinetist, James Shields. It was a very fun day featuring a huge assortment of baked goods from Shoofly Vegan Bakery. God I miss Portland’s vegan food scene. Seattle doesn’t hold a candle.

Next up, 11 Bagatelles, op. 56 for solo piano. I also composed these in 2023, sporadically during the months of April through July (between writing the first movement of the Clarinet Quintet and the later movements.) They were written for my great piano muse Joseph Vaz.

Joey started agitating for more piano music in the lead-up to the highly successful New York premiere of the piano sonata I wrote for him. I thought he was crazy to ask for more. I don’t think of myself as a person who has facility writing for the piano, and he’s given me all sorts of guff about not writing “pianistically.” And yet, he kept asking, so I kept writing. (He’s asked for even more!!)

Joseph recorded these tracks in New York at the Manhattan School of Music. It was a great weekend; I came to town not only for the recording, but also to see Here We Are, the new Sondheim show. The night after the recording I went and screamed my heart out at Uncle Charlie’s with my friend Tim, as I am wont to do.

Last up is an older work, or, shall we say, a piece that has been in development for several years now, my Suite for Solo Cello, op. 36. It’s a little embarrassing to admit that, when I first wrote this, large chunks of it were extremely difficult, maybe unplayable; I should have had a better sense of the cello’s capabilities given my heritage as a violist.

I’d been trying to interest cellists in this piece for a while, but I think they maintained a polite distance because of the challenges. What I really needed was a cellist to workshop the piece with me, and my friend Ryan Farris finally stepped up to the plate this past summer.

We worked on the piece over a the course of a few months, making all sorts of adjustments and re-writes and recorded it in August. I give Ryan all the thanks and credit in the world for pulling off what he did, but I’m still planning to make an alternate arrangement for two cellos. I think it will be a more successful work.

I have to admit though that I love hearing the struggle of the piece in its current incarnation. It’s craggy and austere, and part of me thinks I should just let it exist as the stunted, gnarled oak that it is currently.