for orchestra (2222-4331-timp-strings)
Winner of the 2020 ASCAP Foundation Rudolf Nissim Prize
noun. the realization that the plot of your life doesn’t make sense to you anymore—that although you thought you were following the arc of the story, you keep finding yourself immersed in passages you don’t understand, that don’t even seem to belong in the same genre - which requires you to go back and reread the chapters you had originally skimmed to get to the good parts, only to learn that all along you were supposed to choose your own adventure.
-John Koenig, The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows
The composition of Nodus Tollens was motivated by John Koenig's online work, The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. Our socioeconomic and political climate is deeply divisive and partisan today, and suffers immensely from criminal injustice and strife. One can simply go online or turn on a television and learn of countless stories of death, war, hunger, natural disaster, and any amount of unending turmoil. The continued self-imposed ignorance and lack of desperately needed change will eventually lead to disastrous consequences. We are all in the same car barreling down the highway at breakneck speeds, and it will only take one small bump to end in a fiery demise. If we cannot grasp onto what is important and work towards a common good, we will bury ourselves in the graves we have already begun to dig.
Nodus Tollens alternates between tense anger and frustration and introspective moments of clarity. It represents my confusion and struggle to find where my life's path is taking me. This struggle may also define others' moments of insecurity as they progress through their lives. The work begins with a solo cello playing over a slowly growing background of rumbling low strings, icy harmonics, and winds echoing the cello's ideas. The cello's beginning melodic fragments comprise every piece of the ever shifting foreground and background of the piece. The rhythmic conversation of two against three is also used as a quasi-anchor, to which sections constantly return before new sections occur. Bits and fragments of ideas float intangibly past the listener, seemingly important at the moment, but appear after the fact to not be important at all. We may be meaningless creations of a dead world, but that does not take away from the importance of self-discovery, and documenting and cataloguing our journey.
Premiered by the Metropolitan Orchestra of St. Louis on March 31st, 2019
Wendy Lea, conductor and music director