Murmuring in Comala (Piano solo)

Piano solo, one movement, ca. 4′
Commissioned by Ana Cervantes as part of a multi-composer project celebrating the work of Mexican author Juan Rulfo.
Premiere at 34th Festival Internacional Cervantino, October 2006.

Watch Ana Cervantes perform the piece live at a benefit concert, in Guanajuato, Mexico, May 4, 2006:

Program Note:

The pianist Ana Cervantes commissioned 18 composers to write short piano pieces to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the publication of Pedro Paramo, an important proto-magical-realist novel by Mexican author Juan Rulfo. My Murmuring in Comala was written for this project. 12 of the pieces, including mine, were recorded on compact disc and presented at the 34th Festival Internacional Cervantino in Guanajuato, Mexico on October 17, 2006.

Rulfo’s striking sonic palette (groaning wheels, rattling windows, falling rain and murmuring ghosts), echoes the complex narrative unfolding, where we rarely know whose voice we are hearing initially. Just as sounds imply someone making them, we recognize the voices peripherally, like registering a ghost image. We discover whose voice it was rather than whose voice it is. We must resist the temptation to steamroll through these difficult passages because these veiled voices are so crucial to our understanding. Equally striking is the novel’s non-linear conception of time. It flowers slowly in multiple directions. This is a lovely analog to music, which is surprisingly multidirectional: we listen ahead and backward simultaneously, constantly reinterpreting each new musical gesture by placing it in its previous context and anticipating its direction.

Twisting Magnetic Spins (Percussion Ensemble)

Percussion Ensemble (2005) 7’
7 Players (see full instrumentation below)

Commissioned and premiered by the University of North Texas Percussion Ensemble, Mark Ford, Director.

Listen to an excerpt from the premiere at UNT:


Score and parts available for hard-copy purchase from Steve Weiss Music, or purchase a PDF of the score and parts via PayPal for $25:

Program Note:

Twisting Magnetic Spins was commissioned by the University of North Texas for Mark Ford, the director of percussion studies there. Ever since I wrote The Persistence of Past Chemistries for Ethos Percussion Group several years before, where I restricted the sonic palette to instruments primarily made from wood or organic materials, I wanted to write another piece with the same restriction, but this time with metals. The main solos are taken by the vibraphone and the timpani, but perhaps the bigger challenge for the ensemble is the necessity for the accompanying metallophones to play very softly part of the time. After the premiere, this piece was featured by ASU’s percussion ensemble (J.B. Smith, director) at the 2006 PASIC conference in Austin, Texas as part of the New Ensemble Literature session.

Instrument list:
Tibetan Bowls (4) – or reasonable substitute, such as mounted hand-bells with medium yarn mallets
Timpani (4)
Metal Trash Can
Thunder Sheet
Suspended Cymbal
Brake Drums (3)
Nipple Gongs (2)
Wind Gong
Agogo Bells (2)

The Moon of the Floating World (Women’s Chorus)

Women’s voices divisi into 8 parts, a cappella (2004) ca. 4’45”
Ihara Saikaku, Text.
Premiered by Putni, Antra Drege, Director, in Riga, Latvia, and taken on their American Tour, fall 2006.

Listen to an MP3 of a live performance by Lawrence University’s Cantala Women’s Choir, directed by Phillip A. Swan, May 30, 2009:

Moon_of_the_Floating World     

Purchase a PDF of the score for $1 per copy via PayPal:

Click on the image to open a perusal PDF (pages 1-6) in a new window:


I have gazed at it now
For two years too long
The moon of the floating world.


Anna Akhmatova, Text.
SATB a cappella (2004) ca. 3’

Premiered by San Francisco Choral Artists, Magen Solomon, director.

Listen to a recording of the Cantilena Chamber Choir, Andrea Goodman, director:

Purchase a PDF of the score for $1 per copy via PayPal:

Click on the image to open a perusal PDF of pages 1 & 2 in a new window:
sample image

Program note:

Anna Akhmatova was born in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1889 and lived there through the terrible times of the Russian Revolution and Stalin’s reign, dying in 1966. Unlike many of her contemporaries in the intelligentsia, she elected to remain in Russia at great personal risk. This small poem is a beautiful testament to how the will of the people and the reality of the state can be so painfully at odds with one another.

Nyet, i nye pod chuzhdim nyebosvodom,
I nye pod zashchitoy chuzhdykh kryl
Ya byla togda s’moim narodom,
Tam, gdye moy narod, k’nyeschastyu, byl.

No, not under the vault of alien skies,
and not under the shelter of alien wings —
I was with my people then,
There, where my people, unfortunately, were.

-trans. Orlando Figes

Set Fire to Have Light (String Quartet)

String Quartet (2004) ca. 10+’

Originally written as a quintet, this was premiered by the Barbad Chamber Orchestra, Ramin Heydarbeygi, director. It was also performed by string orchestra before I rearranged it for quartet in 2006.

Purchase a PDF of the score and parts via PayPal for $15:

Click on the page image to open a perusal score in a new window.Set Fire first page image

Here’s a video with Baiba Lasmane, Ginta Alžane (violins), Tatjana Borovika (Viola) and Dina Puķite (Cello), from their performance with my ensemble at Rigas Jaunais Teatris on June 18, 2007 in Riga, Latvia:

Program Note:

The title is taken from a poem by Rumi, the implication being that in order to have enlightement one must be on fire about it; one must be passionate. This is the necessary state to be in if you want to communicate the nature of the music to a listener. The piece employs Arabic rhythmic (iqa’at) and scalar (maqamat) modes. I wasn’t trying to write an overtly Arabic piece, but rather to see what I could derive from an exploration of these specific materials.

Kusanganisa (Flute and Marimba 4-hands)

Flute and Marimba Four-Hands, one movement (2003) ca. 6’30”
Commissioned by Queens Council on the Arts for the ensemble Percussia, Ingrid Gordon, director.

Listen to an excerpt performed by Nicole Camacho, flute, with Chris Bonacorsa and Cesare Papetti, marimba:

Kusanganisa excerpt     

Score and parts available for hard-copy purchase from Steve Weiss Music, or purchase a PDF of the score and parts via PayPal for $9:

Program Note:

Kusanganisa is a Shona word, which describes the idea of ‘mixture’. This piece is an arrangement of a work originally written for Flute, Violin, Cello, Percussion and Mbira, a sort of thumb piano of Zimbabwean origin. I chose the title to reflect the mixture of instruments from different cultures and the mixture of cultural influences I hope you’ll hear in the piece; the mbira passages translated to the upper register of the marimba in the middle of the piece, for example. Kusanganisa was commissioned by the Queens Council for the Arts for Ingrid Gordon and her ensemble, Percussia. I rearranged the piece at the request of three of my (now former) students at Hofstra University.

Cambiando Paisajes (Piano and 2 Percussionists)

Cambiando Paisajes (Shifting Landscapes) (2003, rev. 2005) 9’
Piano and 2 Percussion (Marimba, Vibraphone, Small Drum Kit & Latin Percussion.
Commissioned for pianist Teresa McCollough by Santa Clara University.
Premiered April 25, 2003 at Santa Clara University, California.

Program Note:

Cambiando Paisajes (Shifting Landscapes) was commissioned by Santa Clara University for pianist Teresa McCollough. The piece explores and develops upon various standard Salsa rhythms and keyboard riffs. Growing up in New York, where we have two big Latin music radio stations (not to mention a huge Latin American population), I’ve long had a quiet love affair with Salsa music, and the thought to integrate this music in a new piece gained momentum for me over a period of several years. In the summer of 2000, on Cinco de Mayo, at the South Street Seaport, I saw a Salsa band whose singer was also the conga player. The rhythmic independence required to carry out the vocal line against a completely different conga part was staggering to me. I traveled to Guanajuato, Mexico in October 2001 for the Cervantino Festival, and gravitated toward the Salsa clubs in town, and subsequently began frequenting some of the Salsa clubs in Manhattan and the Bronx. There’s an excellent movie called Cuba Feliz, that follows an elder, itinerant singer/guitarist named El Gallo (The Cricket) from city to city to village in Cuba, and I was struck by how often a passerby could grab an instrument or percussion, sing along, make up lyrics on the spot. I envy such a broadly participatory music culture. While I had those sounds in my ears for a long time, I hadn’t delved into it much musically. So, as part of a selfish experiment, I began making my ear-training students deal with solfeging Salsa melodies and clapping clave rhythms simultaneously. I learned how to do it first so I could demonstrate. Once I realized I had personally internalized a fair amount of that music, I felt free to write this piece. At the same time, I wasn’t trying to write an actual piece of Salsa music, but rather to see what I could derive from an exploration of these specific materials, namely the clave rhythm and particular piano riffs.

for the straight way was lost

Viola or Cello with Clarinet or Bass Clarinet or Alto Saxophone, 1 movement, (2002) ca. 8’
Commissioned and premiered by the Darkwood Consort, Boise, Idaho.

Here’s a video with Uldis Lipskis, clarinet, and Dina Puķite, Cello, from their performance with my ensemble at Rigas Jaunais Teatris in Riga, Latvia:

Program Note:

For the straight way was lost was commissioned and premiered by The Darkwood Consort in Boise, Idaho. The title became unintentionally more and more appropriate over time, as the work has undergone multiple revisions and tweakings and experiments. The title comes from a passage in Dante’s The Divine Comedy, and I chose it because, first, it includes the name of the ensemble that commissioned it from me, but second, it also seems a good description of how the compositional process sometimes goes; sometimes a piece takes unexpected turns (almost of its own volition) that then must be dealt with:

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi retrovai per una selva oscura,
che la diritta via era smarrita.

In the middle of the journey of our life
I found myself in a dark wood,
for the straight way was lost.

-Dante, from The Divine Comedy

Lines for Winter (SATB with piano accompaniment)

Text by Mark Strand
for SATB with piano (2001, rev. 2005) ca. 5’30”
Commissioned as part of the Dale Warland Singers’ New Choral Music Commissioning Program, with major funding provided by the Jerome Foundation and additional support from the Alice M. Ditson Fund of Columbia University.

Purchase a PDF of the score for $1 per copy via PayPal:

Click on the image to open a perusal PDF (pages 1-5) in a new window.

Sometimes there is great wisdom in simplicity, and I was attracted to this text because of its powerful, simple message: love yourself. In a way, the poem seems a continuation of Robert Frost’s Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening, and certainly the imagery is very Frostian. In my setting of the text I tried to provide a simple accompaniment that is suggestive of walking, sometimes slowly, sometimes moderately, and also to evoke through harmonic color the kinds of imagery pervasive in the poem. At the same time, I saw the poem as ultimately one arc that leads to the final line, and the music is similarly structured.


Tell yourself
as it gets cold and gray falls from the air
that you will go on
walking, hearing
the same tune no matter where
you find yourself —
inside the dome of dark
or under the cracking white
of the moon’s gaze in a valley of snow.
Tonight as it gets cold
tell yourself
what you know which is nothing
but the tune your bones play
as you keep going. And you will be able
for once to lie down under the small fire
of winter stars.
And if it happens that you cannot
go on or turn back
and you find yourself
where you will be at the end,
tell yourself
in that final flowing of cold through your limbs
that you love what you are.

— Mark Strand

Pick it up and Run with it (Orchestra)

Pick it up and Run with it (2001, rev. 2005) ca. 6’15”
3333 4331 Timp, 2 Perc, Pf, Strings

Selected for a reading session by the Plymouth Music Series Orchestra in February 2001 as part of the American Composers Forum’s Orchestal Reading Project. Phillip Brunelle conducted. Alvin Singleton acted as composer-mentor.

Listen to excerpts: