The Tree Without End (2011-12)
Commissioned by the Riverside Symphony of New York City. Premiered by same, George Rothman, conductor, June 6, 2012 in Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City.
The Tree Without End is a single movement, 17-minute, free-form composition. It takes as its inspiration the French picture book L'Arbre Sans Fin (1992) by Claude Ponti.
I originally set out to investigate merely the highly evocative title, which resonated for me in abstract terms: fertility, infinity, and the natural Earth. I translated this into musical terms, exploring how diverse musical building blocks might work together in a world of infinite possibility, various elements modifying each other to expand their respective characteristics, seemingly "infinitely."
As I came to know the fantastic text of the Ponti book (using Google Translate with my 5-year old daughter to parse out its meaning, me being mostly French-illiterate), I came to respond to its narrative. The book's magic is in its sequenced artwork (Ponti is an experienced cartoonist), Seussical beings that poeticize the Everyday, and dream text that allows for multiple interpretations. It is essentially a coming-of-age story for a young child, who deals with the loss of her grandmother by falling into a dreamworld where she must conquer her fears of the unknown - represented in a miniature, Odyssey-like journey among the roots of the tree - in order to return home. It would be difficult to summarize the book sans imagery in these program notes, and even more tedious for a listener to use such a synopsis as a guide to hearing the musical work. Ponti's work is purposefully open, residing within a world of dreams and emotion.
Some of my earliest, most powerful experiences with orchestral-classical masterworks were via the great ballets of the early 20th century: Ravel's Daphnis and Chloe , the mighty Diaghilev ballets of Stravinsky, Copland's Appalachian Spring , and Bartók's The Miraculous Mandarin . The underlying dramatic narratives of these classics are rarely, if ever, a necessity to experience the brilliant musical invention inherent in these works. I submit that idea, as well as the openness of Ponti's immaculate creation, as an apologia for presenting the listener with a free-form, episodic flight of fancy designed, one hopes, purely to delight. Additionally, in The Tree Without End there exists a future possibility of being united via video projections, ballet, or some other consort with its source, should there be interest.
2 Flutes (2. doubling Piccolo)
2 Clarinets (2. doubling Bass Clarinets)
2 Bassoons (2. doubling Contrabassoon)
Strings [6 5 4 3 2]