for piano quintet(2018)
Introduction: First Detour
|Commission||Commissioned by Music Accord, for the Escher Quartet and Gilles Vonsattel|
|Premiere||First performance of preliminary version:|
October 30, 2018; Schwab Auditorium, Center for the Performing Arts, Pennsylvania State University
First performances of final, revised version:
January 17, 2019; Daniel and Joanna S. Rose Studio, Lincoln Center, New York; Gilles Vonsattel, piano • Escher Quartet (Adam Barnett-Hart and Danbi Um, violins; Pierre Lapointe, viola; Brook Speltz, cello)
As I began writing this piece, I kept being drawn into a tune that has haunted me continuously for some time. Billy Strayhorn’s “Lotus Blossom,” with its poignant falling lines and close, sighing intervals, is a special shade of bittersweet. In this perfectly melancholy tune, a melodic sequence blooms into an expanded lament, only to rise hopefully and pleadingly during its bridge and then resolve resignedly downwards again. And its accompanying harmony, filled with suspended longing and tinged with regret, holds the secret to why Duke Ellington considered it “just about my favorite, possibly” of his close collaborator’s output. The mood and sinuous profile of “Lotus Blossom,” at one point titled “All Roads Lead Back to You,” became the starting point of All Roads. I envisaged it with more and more layers, complicating and implicating the harmony, and with ever more momentary suspensions and resolutions. As the piece grew to its final form, the reimagined tune became the through-line of the entire work, returning in distant transformations and “detours” in between and throughout the pairs of four main movements. And the imagery and metaphor of roads and paths diverging, circling, flowing and expanding, and finally rejoining, gave shape to the journey of the piece.
In the Introduction (“First Detour”), the piano’s sustained notes guide through traces of the strained melody, with outer voices both harmonizing and atomizing, and strings producing a hazy, suspended sheen. The full quintet begins in earnest (“Forking Paths”) when the strings take over at what would be the bridge, pushing against the piano’s responses, with ever more urgent, repeated swells.
In the following Interlude (“Second Detour”), the lyrical strings become the current against which the piano’s active ornamentation once again resists. This flows into a new movement, “Circuitous Routes (Winding Passacaglias),” which cycles through several expanding chord sequences, around which torrents of rapid piano activity begin to accumulate. It ends with steely vertical sonorities that vaporize into ever-higher reaches.
In its aftermath, a lyrical episode for piano alone traces the curves and outlines of the initial melody, its shadowy profile still intact, but morphed into something entirely different. All instruments are again united in Movement III (“Estuary”), the resonances of the piano providing the anchor from which the strings issue streams of “quiet, buzzing intensity.”
A final interlude recalls the even more distant opening, now three times removed, before the full ensemble launches into the final movement (“Convergence”), which is also the longest and most expansive. Extroverted in rhythm and groove, it occasionally recalls the quiet, sighing music of earlier, only to revert to its propulsive engine and bring the piece to its charged conclusion.
– Anthony Cheung