I've moved! To New York City!! My Master's program at the Steinhardt School in NYU takes off beginning this fall, and so I've relocated to the big city for the second half of this summer to get ready. While it was tough having to leave Michigan (and quite a lot of my family and friends behind), I'm excited for the coming months ahead.
This new journey I'm taking reminds me a lot of the themes and ideas I'm exploring in this double bass concerto. I think the main reason for that is I've never really lived in the big city all of my life. Sure, Michigan has a strong metropolitan center and surrounding city areas, but having seen more of New York City now (and you definitely know this if you've been here before), it's vastly different when comparing the two states. This strongly relates to the feelings of travelling the American countryside, exploring all of its different landscapes, and seeing the characteristics of each place all come together that the concerto will be talking about.
After having to take a brief hiatus because of the move, progress on this piece slowed down briefly, but I'm back to my regular compositional pace now. Usually, that can be anywhere from a few measures a day to large sections of a particular movement that I'll sketch out, then go back to later if I need to edit details or restructure the form. Two movements are complete, and the third is in progress.
The chamber winds' instrumentation is finalized at this point:
I had considered using lower-pitched voices such as tuba and bass clarinet, but ultimately decided to go against it. I was concerned that having too many players in similar range to the bottom register of the double bass would muddy up and ultimately cover the soloist's sound, especially in places where the bassist is in that particular register. While some of the players have similar range to the bass's upper register, I think that this group will intricately work off of each other more and create a stronger harmonious sound.
The percussion list isn't finalized yet - I may tweak a few of these choices, even while making final edits to the piece:
Bet you can't tell I'm a percussionist...
In all seriousness - the two players will be sharing some of these instruments. The Workshop consists of 4 concert toms and 3 different cymbals, one of which is just a regular old-fashioned suspended cymbal heard in other movements. The drum set is a classic jazz set that will come into play in the last two movements. Timpani is written for just 4 drums, but the player can choose to use 5 if need be. So far, the percussion music itself is pretty light in the concerto, but will get very wild with the fast-paced fourth movement.
One of the decisions Matt Gibson (my soloist) and I agreed upon was to retune the bass from its standard tuning. This is essentially known as scordatura, which is commonly used in solo pieces for string instruments (such as Bach's Fifth Cello Suite in c minor or Koussevitsky's bass concerto). This particular tuning we've settled on is used so much in double bass music that it's considered to be the "solo tuning" for the instrument:
Thus, the written part will look as if I wrote the double bass at concert pitch on the score, except in reality, what the reader will see in the part actually sounds an entire whole step higher than written.
Sometimes, as progress on a new piece is made, there are some things which can't be realized because they just don't work within the larger framework, or the grand scheme of things embedded in the music. While the soloist is definitely still the main character (or the "tourist"), and it has defineable traits which make the player unique, I've shared the motive that was initially its own to other players in the chamber group to better connect the entire ensemble together. Although I'm striving for some sense of alienation, part of that's already being accomplished as the bass is the only string instrument (I'm not doing the piano thing again... maybe next time).
The main theme for the concerto, however, is still connected in all of the movements (and it'll continue to do this for all that has yet to be written). The theme I've chosen leaps from here to there as opposed to taking steps more often, characterizing both the uncertainty of going on such a grand adventure and boldly taking the necessary risks for heading into the unknown. Here's a statement of this theme from the first movement:
This theme is characteristically altered throughout the piece depending on style, context, tone, and so on.
The first movement illustrates the western regions of the American countryside - tall mountains, grand canyons, beautiful national landmarks, deserts, and so on. For now, the movement is called "Aloft on a Rock" and serves as a two-section introduction to the concerto. This title is also the translation of what the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma named "Devil's Tower," the famous monolith in Wyoming.
I may change this title later on if I think there is another one out there that better suits the movement, but I like this title as well since it does raise a number of questions about what it's describing. What is aloft on this rock? Is it describing the way the sun appears over it? Or Clouds? Or when people climb the rock? What will the journey to the rock be like? What will we find?
Perhaps this movement won't answer all of these questions, but its very nature is dualfold. The soloist initially takes in their surroundings with these questions. Musically, this will happen after a majestic introduction by the chamber group which gradually builds in size and scope over time, so the soloist won't begin to play right away. Then, when the journey begins, it'll have all of the vigor and excitement that the beginning of every adventure usually has. After all, what better way to start a new adventure than to experience something breathtaking and new in your life?