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for piano quintet

//  Duration: 11'
//  Date: 2015
//  Instrumentation: violin, viola, cello, bass, piano
// Commissioned by The Colonials 
//  Premiere: 12 May 2015, New York



REVIEW in the New York Classical Review

Commissioned and premiered by The Colonials, May 12 2015, Louis K. Meisel Gallery, SoHo, New York. Premiere featuring:

Elizabeth Derham, violin
Kristina Giles, viola
Paul Dwyer, cello
Doug Balliett, bass
Alexandra Le, piano

Complete recording above features Abigail Fayette (violin), Erika Gray (viola), Jean Kim (cello), Samuel Casseday (bass), and Michael Davidman (piano). Recorded Nov 16 2015 at the Curtis Institute Lenfest Hall, with Juan Carlos Castrillón Vallejo, engineer.


i. in the wind
ii. what one star can carve


QUINTET was commissioned by the New York-based ensemble The Colonials, who specialize in both period-instrument Baroque performance as well as new music on modern instruments. It premiered in New York in May 2015.

Compositionally, it is the result of two challenges working in tandem: First was the challenge of writing for a piano quintet that includes contrabass— a relatively rare combination in the repertoire, but one that is rich with possibilities. For this challenge, I decided to feature the bass, rather than bury it in the texture. In the first movement, the bass allows for thick orchestral textures otherwise impossible with a standard piano quintet. In the second movement, I’ve highlighted the instrument’s lyrical upper register, giving this workhorse instrument a chance to sing. The second challenge was how to translate two of my favorite poems into something that speaks wordlessly. As I often do for inspiration, I turned to the works of early-20th century American poet Wallace Stevens, whose poetry is abstract, highly rhythmic, contra-rational, evocative, and always beautiful. For this piece, I chose the first and fifth stanzas of his "Six Significant Landscapes." Attempting to depict the meaning of these poems via some sort of programmatic music would, I think, cheapen the impact of both the poems and the music. Instead, I sought to translate my subjective experience of the poetry into musical expression—a program unfolded in time from a subconscious impression. The stanzas are reproduced below:

An old man sits
In the shadow of a pine tree
In China.
He sees larkspur,
Blue and white,
At the edge of the shadow,
Move in the wind.
His beard moves in the wind.
The pine tree moves in the wind.
Thus water flows
Over weeds.

Not all the knives of the lamp-posts,
Nor the chisels of the long streets,
Nor the mallets of the domes
And high towers,
Can carve
What one star can carve,
Shining through the grape-leaves.


The Colonials
Marc introducing the piece
Marc with Paul and Doug
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