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Non Plus Ultra (1996)
piano duo
Duration: ca. 10’

SMMP No. 108


Premiere performance: Jewett Fine Arts Center Auditorium, Wellesley College, August 5, 2000. Aleck Karis and Christopher Oldfather, pianists.

Non Plus Ultra finds the piano duo in a state of flux – alternating between the traditional paradigm of conversation and that of the “superpiano”, a sonic illusion which creates a single instrument with an impossibly varied range of both timbral and spatial dimensions. The focus on the individual in the former approach is met by the negation of the individual in the latter, thus introducing a potentially destructive contradiction which is averted as the piece progresses; for, as in most human relationships, the intentions of each individual becomes clearer as the union develops. This metaphor is intended to offer guidance to the performers, who are faced with the difficult task of interpreting the score’s mercurial alternation of sentiments and behaviors. The result is a highly sensitive commentary that ultimately brings the duo into balance in a final, subtle interweaving of sound.

Perhaps this composer's main challenge in treating the piano as the principal medium is the sometimes overwhelming weight of its literature. This is as imposing a circumstance for those who were not trained on the instrument as it is for those whose hands have learned the patterns of the classics. By retaining what is generally an idiomatic treatment of the instrument this work admits the influences of that literature while it forges its own unique identity. Familiar, although not common, shapes are reevaluated in this music, as they are "catalogued" according to their expressive sensibilities. The kaleidoscopic presentation of materials in the beginning of this piece is gradually placed in a new context. One's experience of the dimensions this trajectory implies is a principal concern of the work; as if the individual tiles of a mosaic are slowly revealed for their own inherent integrity.