Wind Quintet

for Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon & Horn (2008)

Duration: 15 minutes


Orchestration: fl(afl).ob(ca)

Availability: For Sale


Program Notes


Premiere: May 21, 2010 at Christ and St. Stephen’s Church (New York, New York) Sospiro Winds.


While a teenager at the Boston Tanglewood Institute, a student wind quintet performed the first “work” of mine that I ever heard. I was struck then, as I am now, by the density of the combination of these five instruments. When Sospiro asked me to compose a new work I was hesitant: the wind quintet has always struck me as an arbitrary combination of instruments and even great composers seem to struggle with the problems of balance and density. 


Eventually I relented and composed a three-movement work that would play with density. In the first movement, a set of variations, I juxtapose two parameters: the number of instruments playing and the number of notes they play per bar. The first parameter is additive: the flute and oboe begin the work with a forty-five measure theme, the clarinet joins in the first variation, then the horn and the bassoon for the remainder. The second parameter is subtractive: as more instruments are added the “theme” is pared down and liquefied. The image I had in mind while composing was of a silk screen T-shirt press: the initial theme is the first inking that bleeds almost excessively over the fabric with subsequent pressing becoming more and more faded until there is almost no ink left, leaving only ghostly traces.


The second movement is like a Calder mobile: each instrument plays a few small motives that orbit around the bassoon’s lament. 


Much of my recent music is organized around a single musical plane: a flickering, regularly pulsating line, usually on the note “e.” For me, this has been a useful formal conceit, a malleable symbol and dramaturgical device. I used it first in my short song, Snow to depict the suffocating dread of being buried by winter and then again in my Violin Sonata No.1 to create an atmosphere of obsessive grief – it panics a Morse code message. In the third movement I abandon any direct poetic affect for the purely architectural. The “e” line is an axis and center of density and gravity; violent, virtuosic gestures erupt and orbit but are inevitably drawn back to the pulsating core.