A few years ago, I was approached by Lisa Rogers from Texas Tech University to write a vibraphone concerto for her. We had already collaborated on a project for oboe and vibraphone resulting in Tangling Shadows. It’s wonderful to get to work with someone multiple times so that you truly take advantage of one another’s talents, expectations, and idiosyncrasies. In this particular case, I am grateful to Lisa for her patience throughout the whole process while I found the piece.
Like many others, I love to go outside of the world of music to find the inspiration for a given piece. One of my favorite places to go is literature and, more specifically, poetry. There’s just something about the vivid imagery and the arc of the story or poem that helps the composition take shape. Since this would be a two-movement work, I wanted to find two poems that represented some kind of duality so that the movements would be quite contrasting. One of my favorite poets, Pablo Neruda, happened to have written a collection of poems called “Ode to Opposites” that features pairs of poems. I knew going in that I liked the idea of pitting dark against light and that’s precisely what I found – “Ode to Nighttime” and “Ode to Enchanted Light.”
The first movement, Night’s Song (El Canto de la Noche), paints a picture of rain falling in the dark of the night - at times serene and beautiful, at others much more violently passionate. The tonality is centered on A, but there is constantly a struggle between the major and minor modes transforming a simple lyrical theme into something ethereal and haunting. Some of the phrases from the poem that gave shape to this movement include “behind daylight,” “you thrash around the sky,” “you run wild over the savage flow of rivers,” and “while stars gaze from blackened heights.”
In regards to the vibraphone itself, it has such deep roots in jazz that I really wanted this concerto to be more of a departure. There are other vibraphone concertos that do a great job of embracing this history, so I didn't want to simply follow in others' footsteps. My aim was to write something "pretty" while maintaining the integrity of a "serious" piece of music that will stand the test of time in the repertoire. As it stands now, the piece only exists for solo vibraphone and percussion ensemble as well as a piano reduction. Once the second movement is complete and the percussion ensemble version has received its premiere, two other versions will follow – one for vibraphone and wind ensemble and the other for vibraphone and orchestra (undecided as to whether it will be full orchestra or string orchestra).
Here is an electronic realization of the percussion ensemble version of the piece.
“Night’s Song” will receive its premiere at the 2009 Percussive Arts Society International Convention on Saturday, November 14th at 9:00 a.m. by the Brazoswood High School Percussion Ensemble, directed by Eric Harper, with Dr. Lisa Rogers as the soloist.
The second movement, Enchanted Light, will be completed very soon (if all the stars are aligned).