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Let's klez!

The Sonata for Clarinet and Piano is a complete reworking for piano and clarinet of my Symphonic Suite, which was composed about twenty years prior during my residence at Idyllwild School of Music and the Arts from 1988-1993

The piece has a joyful exuberance reflecting my happiness at the time – happy to be living in the mountain forest, and to be working independent and free from the academic environment which had been my home for the previous decade.

I. Fanfare (8'30") First a little background: In Idyllwild I accompanied dance classes. My approach was to improvise the music, creating bespoke accompaniment on the spot. Watching the instructor demonstrate the move at hand, I would seek to capture the exact feeling and energy required to support the dancers in whatever movement they were up to. As the exercise went on, my ideas would be fed by what the dancers were doing. So, it was an interactive, collaborative event. And if I liked a tune that emerged from this process, I would jot it down in a manuscript book or pad which I always kept handy for the occasion. By the time I reached the end of my five-year engagement at Idyllwild, I had filled a file box with melodies and rhythms. And meanwhile, I had dipped into it more than once for material from which to compose concert works. This movement is constructed from one of those dance class melodies.

As a result of material and ideas which emerged in the subsequent years, the first movement of the Clarinet Sonata has been significantly developed and extended from the much earlier orchestral version. In fact, the present work is almost triple the length of the original.

II. Soft Breeze Over Moonlit Lake (3’30”) The Zen-like title reflects the peaceful serenity evoked by the unfolding music. The first phrase is like a kōan, too: a questioning phrase. Some questions may be answered here; others are left unanswered as the tonally ambiguous ending fades to nothing.

III. Pastorale (3’00”) is a dance, almost a toe-tapper, and as in the first movement, displays a strong “Eastern European” tonal inflection. The movement owes its title to Beethoven's 6th symphony, also entitled Pastorale and depicting country folk engaged in playful revelry. “Tutti” statements alternate with a recurring shepherd’s call on the clarinet, exclaiming “yoo-hoo; I’m over here!”. This tutti-solo back and forth continues through descending key centers, all in good fun and quite jovial. But then “yoo-hoo!” becomes “uh oh!” – signaling possible troubles? Ah no – the earlier sunny mood returns, and all ends well … (we shall see about that in the 4th and final movement…)

IV. Finale (5'00") The rustic dance “amusements” of the previous movement seem to continue, but now in a duple meter. The evening has grown late, and the circle grown smaller as the boy and girl dancers take turns displaying their fancy moves and showing off to each other. There is a mysterious halt to the activity, which soon resumes. The whirls and repeats continue but then … another mysterious halt. When the dancing appears to once again resume, the festivities are abruptly interrupted by a new firm declaration with energy and faster tempo of repeating chords melding into a simple descending line. That line becomes a low register “passacaglia” – upon which several layers are added as it repeats … this layered “canon” finally gives way to a hypnotic “ostinato” figure which gradually fades away into the grey mists of time...


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