My new work for The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center was composed in the late summer and fall of this year. The first two ideas that came to me were the title itself, “Ziji,” and a motive, which in its rhythmic shape is recognizable throughout the piece: two sharply accented eighth notes whose intervallic shape is a descending minor second. This descending second is also sounded against a note a fourth below; at the opening a D and A sound together, then the D snaps down to a C-sharp. This basic motto, almost a physical gesture, repeats and extends to two 3/4 measures; three new notes are added (a chord, sounding from the bottom up, F, B-flat, E) which in turn make up a harmonic world. I would say that every gesture and development, linear and harmonic, including the basic energy of the piece itself develops from these two ideas or seeds, one musical, one verbal. The notion of “verbal” as I mean it here needs further explanation. Unlike words which have no apparent meaning apart from the objects they name, some words contain a whole message in themselves. The Tibetan language, for example, is full of words which are evocative of states of being or which are, literally, expressions of awakened mind. The word “Ziji” is one of these. “Zi” means “shine” or “glitter,” and “ji” means “splendor” or “dignity,” sometimes “monolithic.” Put together, the meaning is shining out, rejoicing while remaining dignified. To my mind, as I was composing the piece, “Ziji” meant the energy of confidence, the fuel of confidence. As a student of Tibetan Buddhism for some fourteen years now, such concepts and experiences have resonance with my work with my own teacher, the late Chögyam Trungpa. So for me the word itself continually sparked further inspiration, prompted specific ideas, and guided the direction of the piece as I went on.
As for the music itself, it is, I think, very American, above all in its rhythmic life. Having chosen a “Brahmsian” ensemble of clarinet, horn, violin, viola, violoncello and piano, the piece took an energetic and active life almost at odds with the more mellow, dark timbre and slower pacing that the ensemble might seem to suggest. Although I have much to say about the transformations that take place in the piece, I leave that for the piece itself to reveal, feeling that the music is available and, I think, generous in spirit to the involved listener.