RETREAT FROM THE WORLD: A MUSICAL RELIQUARY
In times of horror and confusion in the world, we yearn to take shelter. Perhaps down a flight of basement stairs, in a dark, safe place, filled with old, possibly unfamiliar objects: a storehouse of relics, areliquary.
My “Reliquary” was written for eighth blackbird in February and March of 2005, and it comes from a private, sometimes dark place. The main quality of the work is its smallness, its focus on musicalobjects (rather, perhaps, than objectives). The chamber ensemble is broken down into even smaller groups: for example, in one section, a clarinet plays a series of repeated, muttering phrases, interrupted by the percussionist loudly striking a bell. Elsewhere, the flute and piano have a fiery, jarring duet; then the clarinet plays soft staccato notes over a softly strummed ukelele. This format of small, linked sections adds up to a full, single-movement work, an intimate, fragile tapestry, to be performed with concentration and gracefulness.
The piece traverses a variety of different sound-worlds, and the quiet, eccentric, sometimes microtonal use of the instruments is an important part of this. The pianist often plays on the strings with hands, plastic sticks, etc. The percussionist primarily uses small instruments – woodblocks, little bells, pots, even toys and small gadgets. The clarinetist performs an extended passage of microtonal trills, wresting a variety of timbres from the instrument.
The six instrumentalists are the keepers of the reliquary, the evokers of this chamber of curiosities. In our time there is a great fascination with such places: circuses, cabarets, medicine shows. They help us to escape from the uncertain extremes of the outside world by helping us to look at the stranger, hidden parts of our humanity under a microscope. Here, perhaps the signs, symbols and gestures are not always immediately understood at first glance, but closer examination can reveal an odd, exciting beauty. Through close scrutiny of a variety of musical ideas, I have hoped to take the listener from a world of anxiety and puzzlement to a place of refreshment and stillness.