Last Chants


For clarinet, string trio, and piano. View Score

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Last Chants, for clarinet, string trio (violin, viola, cello) and piano.
Premiere date: June 9, 2015: Walla Walla Chamber Music Festival.

Program notes, from the composer:
It’s funny how life takes interesting turns, and unexpected collaborations come up as we move forward in our careers.

In the summer of 2003, I enrolled in a conducting camp – Medomak – to be held in Maine. Though doing a lot of composing, I was still mainly employed as a professional trumpeter at the time, but had an inkling that I wanted to try some stick-waving as yet another creative outlet.

Part of the 3-week seminar involved standing in front of a string ensemble and piano as we labored through a Beethoven or Shostakovich score, under the watchful eye of the mentor conductor. It is there that I met Tim Christie and his wife, Maria Sampen. I have seen the videos of myself at this early stage in my conducting career (I have since gone on to legitimately stand in front of many orchestras and wind ensembles), and I am not sure how they kept from breaking out into laughter while playing. However, regardless of that, we did have a good time, and it was a pleasure getting to know them and the other musicians in the ensemble.

It was a little more than a decade later when Tim reached out to me about composing something for his chamber music festival in Walla Walla, Washington. I had since gone on to become a full time composer, and was enjoying writing for many mixed ensembles in addition to large-scale works. Therefore, when he approached me about a new work for clarinet, piano and strings, I was very much enticed at the idea, and agreed wholeheartedly.

The music:
Interestingly enough, this was one of the rare occurrences where I was asked to provide a title before writing the music. Somehow – while driving through town for a completely unrelated issue – the title of “Last Chants” popped into my head.

I’m always a fan of wordplay, and I knew immediately that the word “chants” would be a pun, because of the sonic implications immediately available to me as a result. Therefore, the music is very much taken from older “chant-like” melodies and harmonies (open intervals and pitch-bends). This will be immediately apparent. Secondly, because the title also sounds like “Last Dance” – the music breaks off for quite an extended period of time into odd-metered dance-like material, still based on the chant sonorities already established.

There is an exhaustive amount of pitch-bending and intense rhythmic material as we approach the end, so as to signify that this might indeed be the last chants, because the musicians should be simply too tired to attempt anything further. I sincerely wish to thank Tim for his support of new music and living composers (he has commissioned and premiered nine works to date) and for reaching out to me for this collaboration. I had a lot of fun writing it, and I cannot wait to hear the premiere performance!

Jim Stephenson; May 11, 2015

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