Music for Eighteen Winds is the result of the MIT Arts council’s generous invitation to compose something for any MIT performance organization, of any length, of any intent. Commissions seldom grant this kind of freedom, and I wrote a piece I had been contemplating for some time – for winds, concise (about eleven minutes), and abstract (without extra musical associations).
I wrote a piece that can be played by an orchestral wind section, a scaled-down band, or a scaled-up chamber music group, hoping that all three such ensembles might eventually perform it either here or elsewhere. The piece is challenging to play, but not impossible for college and music school students.
Most precious about the situation was the chance to frame the piece’s first program, work with MIT students, colleagues, and friends from the Boston free-lance community in its presentation, and play it for an audience in my own community. This influenced the shape of the piece, which trusts both players and audience to meet it halfway.
The title is a simple reification. I looked for a more colorful one, but the piece resisted. There are two large sections, both based on the same musical materials:
I. Very fast, full ensemble, answers, urban, concrete.
II. Not as fast, solos, questions, rural, metaphysical.
Toward the end of the piece, as the music becomes more and more cursive and self contained, it also become warmer and more optimistic, a paradox which is close to this composers heart.
— John Harbison