For Clarinet Quartet (4 Bb)
During my sophomore year of high school, my friend Taylor Thompson was complaining about how she was going to be bored over April vacation. Our band director Jason Bielik overheard and he suggested that I write clarinet quartets for us to play with our friends Sarah Carter and Justin Marple. I'm not sure if he actually expected anything to happen, but I took him seriously. We ended up having two rehearsals/reading sessions over break, making my weeklong driver's ed course somewhat more bearable. We continued rehearsing throughout the summer and ended up premiering the piece on our winter band concert.
The piece has continued to serve me well - I've read it at various summer festivals and performed it with my clarinet quartet at Eastman. I find it rather delightful that these groups continue to have the same issues with the piece that we did as sophomores in high school! It is not for the faint of heart (particularly the third movement), but it is rewarding - and, clearly, possible to achieve even for a high school group.
However, this piece will always be more than just music to me. Taylor, Sarah, and Justin were the first true group of friends that I had, where we would hang out together, have IM groupchats every night (back in those days of ancient technology!), watch movies, go mini-golfing together... We always budgeted extra time at rehearsals for lemon squares and pinball. This piece also launched a series of summer chamber music recitals I put together for the community, forming the backbone of the first recital the summer after my junior year. I still make efforts to keep in touch with them although we have all gone our separate ways.
At the time of composition, it was very important to me that there be four movements since there were four performers (this trend continues in my five-movement clarinet quintet, "Catharsis", written the following year). Courtesy of Douglas R. Hofstadter's "Gödel, Escher, Bach", I was also taken with the concept of "attacca" (and to some degree still am, judging by some of my more recent chamber works like "Synthesesia" and "Travails"). Although perhaps somewhat wearing on the performers, I believe that the affect of unity is well-worth the effort required.
Over the years, I've received questions about the movement names. Each is named for a form ending in "e" (hence "Ballade" vs. "Ballad"). The first is meant to create a sense of play and whimsy, with themes bouncing from one voice to another and some cheekily abrupt grand pauses. "Lachlan Shores" doesn't refer to any particular place, but seeks a sense of maudlin or fond remembrance, staring out, perhaps, upon an overcast ocean. It also features one of the first instantiations of my favorite four-note motive, here as Eb-D-Bb-C. " 'Liza Jane" seemed appropriate for a 20's or 30's jazz head, but again has no actual connotations. Finally, the ouroboros is the ancient symbol of a snake eating its own tail, symbolising rebirth and eternity. This connects with the rondo form of the movement, the contrasting sections that bring back material from the previous three, and the final phrase that ends the piece just as it began.