A Flame Out of Focus (2014)
piano and cello
for Niall Ferguson

In a lesson with Mario Garuti, I shared this piece, which was then quite new and a big step for me. He saw the first line and exclaimed in jest, "Modern music!"

flame opening

We both laughed because I thought this was very funny. Then, as he scrolled down to the next line he looked at me again and joked, "Ah no, it's tonal music!"

Flame tonal

I thought this was even funnier. Laughs aside, it does kind of illustrate how the piece operates. I had been given an assignment to respond to a character from a painting by Picasso (it was "the pleading woman", from Guernica) and felt quite detached from it. But I found this detachment, both from the artwork and from its grisly subject matter, interesting and troubling. And so I was able to respond to the prompt, by way of investigating my non-response to it. The two players are never exactly synchronized: the cellist is feverishly engaged in a droning tremolo, sonically choked by a practice mute, while the pianist plays a contemplative chorale, spectating the immolation from a distance.

The piece was first performed in November 2014 at UCLA, by my dear friend Niall Ferguson on cello, and myself at the piano. In 2015, it was a finalist for the ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Award.