Mountain Laurel Suite
for Flute, Clarinet and Piano
Commissioned by the Mountain Laurel Trio, 2004
Program Notes by James Stephenson
In the spring of 2004, I was approached by the members of the Mountain Laurel Trio (Beth Larsen, Scott Ellington and Julie Shaffer) with a proposal to compose a new piece for their newly formed chamber ensemble. The idea was immediately intriguing, as I had certainly never composed anything for that instrumentation, much less even heard the combination.
I distinctly remember receiving an e-mail from Julie, politely suggesting that I compose something evocative of their name, perhaps to include mountain grandeur, flowing rivers, and even some hints of a deep south Baptist hymn. Also included in my instructions was the invitation to use all of the instruments they had available to them: alto flute, piccolo, flute, clarinets in A and B-flat and bass clarinet, and of course, the piano.
I decided I would do all of this eventually, but I wanted to start with a fierce mountain storm, hence, the 1st movement. It opens wildly, suggesting images of whistling winds rushing through the tall, imperiled pines. For a brief moment, there is a break in the storm, and the sun peers through the clouds, but this is only fleeting, as the storm quickly takes over until the very end of the movement. (Ironically this movement was composed in early August of 2004, about a week before Hurricane Charley decimated the region less than100 miles north of where we all live.)
The 2nd movement starts attacca, but very tentatively, as if the alto flute and clarinet are afraid to emerge for fear of another storm. This trepidation fades as the Baptist hymn is introduced, first soulfully by the clarinet and then emphatically by the piano. The movement again shies away to the material with which it opened.
The 3rd movement is a sort of square dance, but a little off. I chose the instruments with the most contrast (piccolo and bass clarinet), and with the piano, set them all off on their own on a kind of rollicking rondo that just won’t quite settle. After some bickering about, they do finally settle into a stroll along the “flowing river” in a gradually growing romantic theme, only to quickly close out the piece with a remnant of the rondo.
The piece is roughly 14 1⁄2 minutes, and is scored to include Flute, Alto Flute, Piccolo, A and B-flat Clarinets, Bass Clarinet and Piano.
James Stephenson, August, 2005