Why Was I Born Between Mirrors?
for chamber ensemble(2019)
|Commission||Co-commissioned by Latitude 49, Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, and Sentieri selvaggi|
|Premiere||World Premiere: May 17, 2019; Stage 773, Chicago, Il; Latitude 49|
Premiere of Revised Version with Flute; July 12, 2019; City Theatre, Pittsburgh, PA; Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble • Kevin Noe, artistic director
European Premiere; February 1, 2020; Museo M9, Mestre, Italy; Sentieri selvaggi • Carlo Boccadoro, conductor
|Instrumentation||Flute (or Soprano Sax)|
Clarinet (doubling bass clarinet)
[4 Suspended Enameled Flower Pots (G#4, A4, B4, C5)
—as resonant and in tune sounding as possible
3 Crotales (A#4, B4, C5), sounding two octaves higher]
“Why Was I Born Between Mirrors?” is the penultimate sentence in Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station. The novel is about an American author living abroad in Spain, trying to find his own voice through the act of translating Spanish poems into English. The original phrase ¿Porque naci entre espejos? comes from a poem by Federico Garcia Lorca, “Canción del naranjo seco” and my title is Lerner’s translation.
I’d been thinking how the act of translation is very similar to the act of transposition in music as I began composing this sextet. On the surface, they are straightforward operations. However, when a musical idea is shifted out of its original register or instrumental context, the results are often surprising and unpredictable. This is particularly true in my piece: Mirrors utilizes the inherently unstable sounds of a prepared piano (in this case, metal screws inserted between the strings) and clay flower pots—unconventional instruments whose sound worlds are not uniform or consistent. Therefore, moving musical ideas up or down a step produces strikingly different results, just as the act of translating words from another language inevitably changes their meaning (for better or worse).
The title also refers to the form of the piece, in which the “meat” of the work occurs between mirrored sections of music. It begins and ends with an undulating tremolo on the flower pots; moving inward, there is a rhythmic section for prepared piano, and at the center is a gentle and lamenting chorale, expressing the core of the work at its simplest: two notes, a third apart, trying to connect to one another.
– Christopher Cerrone