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rebirth: an eternal grove | 生まれ変わった魂・永遠の木立

for string quartet

Commissioned by and dedicated to Ranko Shimizu and musicGROVE.

Duration: ca. 16'30"

Premiere: TBA

Program Notes

For the past five years or so, many of my pieces have focused on subjects of nature, such as my solo piano collection Orchard and my tuba concerto Loam. This touchstone is a clear line that runs through my recent music in a programmatic and narrative sense, but more importantly, the musical shapes, textures, and gestures that I seek to create are directly informed by the natural world.

rebirth: an eternal grove is no exception. This work was commissioned by a longtime friend of mine, Ranko Shimizu, who runs an organization in Tokyo called musicGROVE, which programs (western) classical music concerts in traditional Japanese spaces such as shrines and temples. When we first started discussing this piece, nature was at the top of the conversation: the obvious connection that musicGROVE had to natural elements (like a bamboo grove), and the hidden pockets of nature within the Tokyo metropolis, as well as the water that runs through and surrounds Ranko’s hometown of Koto City.

As the title suggests, while composing this music I was imagining a grove - a place of solitude and rest, a place with a nearly ancient quality - undergoing the changes of the seasons throughout a year. Rebirth changes “seasons” approximately every four minutes, but does so subtly, slipping in and out of new textures and harmonies.

More specifically, each section can be broken down as such:

Spring: The Sun Rises
Harmonics at the beginning allude to the impending sunlight growing across the horizon. Ascending gestures throughout this section are intended to evoke nature being in bloom, the sun finally shining after a long winter, and light shimmering on the water.

Summer: Heavy Forest
A solo viola line leads into more energetic music. I wanted parts of this music to have an oppressive quality, as if being deep in a summer forest, surrounded by greens and browns and the air thick with humidity. But, there is also a certain playfulness to the music here.

Autumn: Return to Earth
The music here has the feeling of establishing itself, and then pulling itself apart or melting together, in order to transform into something different. I wanted to blur the lines between the harmonies to convey a sense of the changing colors of the leaves, and also a sense of withdrawal and returning to the soil.

Winter Stars… snow
Throughout the end of the piece, I had the image of hoshigaki in my mind: persimmons hanging in the sun drying, coupled with the imagery of a cold night with stars overhead, and bursts of light snow flying through the air.

More generally, another goal of mine was to imbue the music with a kind of surreal quality, such as when more traditional-sounding melodic sections emerge from texture-based passages, or in the Autumn section (marked “like a chorale from another reality”), where a chord progression undergoes undefined and blurry tonal-center changes through a glissando-type texture.

Finally, I wanted to allude to a kind of rebirth with the piece on multiple levels. Of course, there is the rebirth of nature that occurs  through the changing of seasons. But also, this piece feels like a kind of personal rebirth. I think, like many artists in the time of the COVID-19 Pandemic, the past year has felt like my entire career as a composer had come to a stop. At the time Ranko asked me to compose this piece, I wasn't even sure if I wanted to continue to pursue composing seriously any more. I’m extremely thankful for the opportunity to compose this piece, and it has truly felt like a personal rebirth in so many ways.

This piece is dedicated, with gratitude, to Ranko Shimizu and musicGROVE (Tokyo, Japan).

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