Variants for Mother Jones
Performed by the Ensemble Courage, Dresden; Titus Engel, conductor
Although it might appear that the two works submitted here occupy different points on the musical spectrum, they are nonetheless unified by their source of inspiration: people’s everyday struggles, be they political, economic, or emotional. The exploration of these struggles has always been an important part of my work and is what has brought me to compose theatrical music with an explicitly political message. These elements—combined in equal part with my experience as a rock musician—have helped form my compositional voice.
“Variants for Mother Jones” from Valuable Natural Resources—the older and angrier of the two works—is politically direct, wrestling at once with the history of child labor in the United States and with one of the hardest questions I have ever tried to answer: “What makes (instrumental) music political?” The inspiration and title for the work stem from the words of the late, great American folk-singer Utah Phillips, who once told a classroom of children: “You're about to be told one more time that you're America's most valuable natural resource. Have you seen what they do to valuable natural resources?”
Performed by the Bard Conservatory Orchestra; Leroy Davis, soloist; James Bagwell, conductor.
Moving from the political to the personal, “Dear Atticus” is the final aria from my opera Vinkensport, or The Finch Opera, which I composed in late 2009 with librettist Royce Vavrek. In Dear Atticus a lonely old man fulfills a promise to his only friend—his pet bird, Atticus—setting him free after 10 years of companionship. The release of the bird is the climax of the opera; you’ll hear the joyously over-the-top moment when it happens. As Atticus flies to freedom to live out the rest of his hopeful days, the old man is left alone with his long-ingrained daily routine, his own quiet struggle.