Commissioned by the Unheard-of//Ensemble
Audio excerpt currently unavailable.
The term “frontlash” is defined as a “a counter-reaction to a political backlash” in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. When I first heard this term, I was unaware of its true meaning. I mistakenly assumed that while a “backlash” was a strong public reaction against an event, a “frontlash” was a strong reaction against an event that had not yet occurred. The latter misconception of the word framed my initial thinking about the creation of this chamber work commissioned by the New York-based Unheard-of//Ensemble.
During the writing of this piece, it was impossible to escape the seemingly unending turmoil surrounding the White House and a deeply troubling sense of chaos engulfing society. Both the true meaning of the word “frontlash,” as well as my initial misunderstanding of the term, seem to describe the current state of American society. It is difficult avoid stories in the news describing mass protests, reactions and counter-reactions created, in part, by an increasingly strident political divide in the nation. As if this discord were not enough, the seemingly unending agony caused by terrorism continues unabated throughout the world. As discourse gives way to virulent disagreement, counter-reactions to backlashes as well as angry reactions before any word or action even occurs are prevalent. Often, all it takes in modern America to cause a “frontlash” is a “D” or a “R” after a politician’s name, a person’s race, gender, or sexual orientation, or a person wearing a cross, a burka, or a yarmulke.
The music in this composition illustrates the concept of a “frontlash” by bringing together four different voices: a clarinet, a violin, a cello, and a piano. Each of these instruments, at various points throughout the piece, presents a solo, beginning with the very opening idea given by the clarinet. Each of these solos, however, is immediately and aggressively interrupted by the other three instruments before the soloist has an opportunity to fully articulate the idea. The interruptions are always comprised of the same violent motives and while the listener may hear tiny portions of the original solo trying to be heard within the din, the idea is lost and even the soloist eventually joins in the discord. I purposely tried to compose calming and thoughtful musical material, unique to each instrument, for the solos. However, it is the same violent musical ideas that continually disrupt the solos. It is sad to me that the beauty I believe inherent in each of these solos is never fully explored and developed. The solos are always destroyed by more aggressive voices.
If it is sad for me to see musical ideas crushed never to return in a small chamber piece, how much more tragic is it for our society when beautiful voices of reconciliation, understanding, empathy, and peace are likewise shouted or beaten down – to be lost forever?