Clear Sky

2005 – 06 | for soprano saxophone and ensemble

[ score | recording ]

Clear Sky, for soprano saxophone and ensemble, is nexus of reflections on my mother's death after over a decade of physical decline. The title refers to the moment itself of her passing when, after days of nearly incessant rain, the clouds broke and sunlight entered the room where she lay.

The soloist's part is a strange form of theme-and-variations, where the "variations" are attempts to recover a theme that has been nearly lost. (Consistent with much of my work, a large portion of the piece's melodic and rhythmic material and architecture derive from this germinal theme.) The ensemble is organized into two main groups. Participating in the variations as if in a series of interweaving dreams, the members of the first group—flute, clarinet, trombone, and cello—are like projections of the soloist's most intimate memories. The clarinet has an especially deep connection with the saxophone. The music played by the remaining ensemble instruments is more objective and ritualistic in character, a kind of fragmented, elusive chaconne whose harmonies evolve even as they cycle. Juxtaposed with these musical elements are occasional aural "visions" inspired by the blinding, shimmering reflection of light on bodies of water.

Clear Sky was commissioned by and first performed at the 2006 Rümlingen Festival in Switzerland. The saxophone soloist was Marcus Weiss, for whom the part was composed, with the festival ensemble conducted by Peter Rundel. It is dedicated to the memory of Gloria Levine.