Clarinet Quintet (2002-2003)

Winner, De Lorenzo Prize in Music Composition.

This is a three movement work for clarinet and string quartet, approx. 22 minutes in length. The piece is based on the writings of three Greek philosophers: Heraclitus, Parmenides, and Epicurus.

The Berkeley Contemporary Chamber Players
Peter Josheff, clarinet
Karen Shinozaki, Cary Koh, violins
Darcy Rindt, viola
Leighton Fong, cello
David Milnes, conductor

Recorded Live at the International House, Nov. 22nd, 2003.

1st movement:
2nd movement: 
3rd movement: 

Program Note: For many years, I have been especially interested in the classical materialist thinking of Democritus, Epicurus and Lucretius. In particular, I have been drawn to the manner in which these thinkers conceive of matter in both literal and metaphorical terms. In the Clarinet Quintet I have tried to reach two goals: firstly, to draw an analogy between “musical material” and “matter” as the philosophers conceive of it, and secondly, to shows this “material” from different musical perspectives.

In the first movement I tried to create a world of flux. By repeating a melody for violin again and again, but always in a constantly changing context, I tried to show the fluid and permeable nature of things. Paradoxically, one can only reveal flux by contrasting it with things that remain the same. In other words, the idea of flux only makes sense in relation to a world that could be understood as permanent. The trembling high harmonic F-sharp in the first violin embodies this paradox of stability and change.

The second movement is concerned with permanence. Here flux gives way to a deeper unity. This movement was written as a series of independent fragments, all based on a single compositional system, and were eventually arranged into their present sequence. In a certain sense, concepts like succession, causality, order, or “before and after” are irrelevant here. Although the musical surface is quite diverse, I hope the listener gets the sense that there is something profoundly unifying underneath it all. For me, silence is the unity that holds it together.

The third and final movement represents a break from the opposing philosophies of the first two movements. Here I have taken the perspective of a different sort of materialist, one who accepts the determinations of matter, but finds more interest in the conventions produced by human interaction with material. In this movement the conventions return – a ritornello form, reminiscences from other movements, a cadenza, and so forth. Yet, the movement also unexpectedly breaks with these conventions. A rupture occurs just after the first violin recalls its shimmering harmonic F-sharp, and the piece launches off in a surprising direction.

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