The Sonoran Desert is a place of supreme beauty, grandeur, calmness, and intensity. Some of my most transformative moments have been while wandering the Sonoran Desert. Sonora evokes certain feelings, sounds, and images of the desert. Large, complex, sustained sonorities represent the colorful paint-brushed appearance of the desert sky, the wideness of the desert, and the confident command of the Saguaro Cactus which towers over her expansive territory. After some calm expository material, the work becomes more vigorous, being a depiction of not only the quiet intensity of this dry place, but of the psychological intensity of being in a desert, finding oneself surrounded by immense loneliness.
Windmills is a soft piece that presents short melodic gestures over two swaying sonorities. A sense of subtle movement and expansiveness are a result of repeating these gestures, each time colored slightly differently by moving to distantly related keys. I have drawn from three different works by 20th century American composers: Samuel Barber's Knoxville: Summer of 1915, John Corigliano's Fern Hill, and Ingolf Dahl's Sinfonietta: "Notturno Pastoral." These pieces have a simplicity and tasteful lilt to them that remind me of the countryside. I began living in this pastoral sound and found that the musical gestures I had been sketching evoke windmills in their circular motion. At the same time, I was considering how I might acknowledge St. Olaf College. "Windmills" seemed a perfectly fitting title because St. Olaf College has a wind turbine visible from everywhere on campus and is seated beautifully next to a pond in a wheat-colored field. As my piece progressed, it became an expression of my feelings when standing before this grand structure in the idyllic setting.
The sultry tangos of two Argentine Composers, Astor Piazzolla and Osvaldo Golijov, served as models for this piece. The Argentine tango is a dance characterized by the tango rhythm (two dotted-quarters followed by a quarter) in 4/4 time. Piazzolla developed this musical form and took it to the concert stage, stamping it with his sweeping melodies and harmonic sequences. Golijov added a 20th century flair, involving extreme chromaticism and extended techniques including slides and unusual bowing effects. Tango began as a string quartet and was later expanded for full orchestra. I wrote the quartet version while studying in Paris, a city that has greatly embraced the Argentine tango as well as the rise of modernity in the early 20th century. Tango is a product of these two traditions: I have combined elements of the tango tradition with Stravinsky's dislocated accents and tightly spaced, biting sonorities, resulting in a piece that is both machine-like and steamy.
Tango was commissioned by Mr. Steven Amundson and the St. Olaf Orchestra. It is dedicated to them with much gratitude for their wonderful music.