sextet for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, bass, and percussion, 2014

The central moment of Breather comes towards the end of the piece, when the bass and the cello are gradually exposed, their alternating harmonic glissandi spelling out dominant-seventh and tonic chords in the key of G Major. These chords represent the central pillars of tonal harmony; they provide the sense of tension and release that lies at the heart of the Western classical music tradition. In Breather, the arrival of these chords is meant to underscore the connection between musical tension and release and the physical tension and release of respiration – the tension of inhaling and the release of exhaling. In fact, a sense of respiration has been present in Breather since the beginning, both literally, in the air sounds produced by the winds and strings, and figuratively, in the insistent stepwise rocking between two pitches that lasts for much of the piece (the harmonic significance of which is clarified with the arrival of the tonal chords at the end). The constantly rising and falling dynamics that govern the whole ensemble also evoke a sense of breath, and they help to unify the individual instruments, as if the sextet were actually a single living organism.

Breather was commissioned by Oerknal! and is dedicated to that ensemble and their musical director, Gregory Charette. At its premiere, the piece was inserted in the middle of my song cycle Descriptions of the Moon. The piece was thus intended to serve as a breather, or a protracted moment of respite, between the two halves of Descriptions.

Gregory Charette, musical director
Susanne Peters, flute
Daniel Boeke, clarinet
Mariana Hutchinson Siemers, violin
Steuart Pincombe, cello
James Oesi, bass
Ryoko Imai, percussion