12 April 2008
Enso String Quartet
Joan Tower, piano
Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, DC
Following Stravinsky and Copland as the third commissioned composer by the Dumbarton Oaks Estate is of course quite daunting particularly since these are two very strong composers that had an enormous influence on me. Their sense of musical continuity and profiling of ideas puts them in the category of musical geniuses. I have, in fact, dedicated two pieces to them: Petroushskates (to Stravinsky) and Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman (to Copland). My musical debt to these two great composers is profound.
The Dumbarton Quintet is a piano quintet dedicated to Susan Feder, my longtime publisher at G. Schirmer and Associated Music Publishers. (She is now with the Mellon Foundation). It was commissioned by the Dumbarton Oaks Estate.
It is a 14-minute work in one movement that travels through several themes with different emotional contents. The first is a flowing line that is cast in a narrow space of smaller intervals first soft, then loud but with a restrained kind of intensity that finally "bursts out" into a more "forward" and visceral type of intensity. This shifting between intensities, in fact, is part of the "dna" of the work and as the piece progresses; each side tends to take on more and more extremes of expression. At particular points, the "softer" material becomes almost romantic, consonant and singing in its expression whereas the "louder" passages become the opposite manic and aggressively dissonant.