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Emblems (1997)
Chamber Orchestra: 2(1picc., 2Alto)1.1(B.Cl.).0 – – Perc(3) – String Quintet
Duration ca. 15’

SMMP No. 109

Listen to an audio clip

Premiere: Mandeville Center, University of California, San Diego, May 1, 2001. Members of SONOR, featuring Steven Schick and Bertram Turetzky; Colin McAllister, conductor.

Emblems uses quotations from Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities as well as from his book of essays, Collezione di sabbia, as points of departure for the sonic explorations that follow. Each of the four mini-ensembles (ordered from left to right on the stage, not in order of appearance) is accompanied by the following texts: 1. "There is no language without deceit." 2. "...the power of emblems..." 3. "Futures not achieved are only branches of the past..." 4. "...only departures, not returns." These texts are intended to characterize the musical activity for the entire piece, but in an admittedly idiosyncratic manner that is decidedly non-programmatic in the Romantic sense. Rather, Emblems is a fantasy, of sorts, on a theme by Calvino filtered through my own poetic predilections.

My work of this period is marked by a preoccupation with a process in which a small number of highly differentiated (even contradictory) materials are able to develop and grow throughout the course of the piece by steadily intensifying the focus on each individual. In the case of Emblems, each mini-ensemble is distinguished by its unique timbric identity, spatial location, and gestural palette. These mini-ensembles alternate quite rapidly, with tutti soundings of the entire ensemble acting as intermediary states. As the piece progresses, however, the alternation between mini-ensembles slows; thus allowing each to occupy its own space without fear of immediate interruption. At the same time, as each individual's voice is extended and elaborated the common features between them begin to emerge. Or is it rather the case that as the piece progresses the previously differentiated individuals dissolve together? The emblems that finally appear at the end of the work do so only briefly, slipping “…like grains of sand…” through our fingertips. Emblems accommodates a broad range of interpretations, I believe, which begins to capture the fluid, even amorphous quality of Calvino’s writings.