Nickitas Demos

written in solitude (orchestra)



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    written in solitude (chamber)_m1_excerpt
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    written in solitude (chamber)_m2_excerpt
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    written in solitude (chamber)_m3_excerpt

written in solitude (orchestra) (2020)

Nickitas Demos

I. i ate ashes like bread - score preview

II. in the constant presence of each other's absence - score preview

III. when cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul - score preview

Please note that audio samples above are from the chamber version of the piece

Duration: 21'

This work was composed as a direct response to the unwelcome arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Spring of 2020. Like so many other creative artists around the world, the majority of my professional engagements and prospects vanished seemingly overnight when the virus struck. Performances of my works were canceled, and new commissions became rare.

During the third week of quarantine, I decided to do something that I had never done before: compose a new work purely for myself with no expectations of eventual performance. Even when I was a student, I had always written music that I knew would be performed. Why else go to all the trouble? However, as the pandemic began to systematically close down society, I was still in the grieving process having lost my beloved wife Maria to breast cancer nine months earlier. The forced isolation of quarantine exacerbated my struggle in learning how to live alone. As a coping mechanism, I resolved to enter into the world of composition despite lacking a commission or deadline. Much of the work of a composer is done, by necessity, in solitude. I’ve never minded being by myself; but it is an entirely different thing to be alone. Writing music was the only place left to go where I did not feel alone and provided a haven of normalcy amid a world in lockdown and my own personal journey of grief.

The idea of writing a piece for clarinet and strings originally came to me as a single movement sextet of a relatively short duration. The timbres tugged upon my imagination long before musical or programmatic ideas were shaped. However, almost immediately upon sketching the opening cello line, I decided to write a work for string orchestra and clarinet. Once that decision was made, it seemed a like a short step to a three-movement concerto for clarinet and strings.

The three movements of the concerto trace my emotional journey while composing the work. The title of the first movement, i ate ashes like bread, is taken from Psalm 101 and seemed to perfectly capture the sense of desolation I felt when entering into the creation of this piece. The music is moody, despondent, and punctuated with fits of anxiety throughout; mirroring a grieving widower in quarantine during a pandemic. The second movement, in the constant presence of each other’s absence, is derived from a quote I read online by the author Gianpiero Petriglieri. While discussing the workforce’s pivot to online, virtual meetings, Petriglieri writes, “I spoke to an old therapist friend today, and finally understood why everyone’s so exhausted after the video calls. It’s the plausible deniability of each other’s absence. Our minds tricked into the idea of being together when our bodies feel we’re not. Dissonance is exhausting. It’s easier being in each other’s presence, or in each other’s absence, than in the constant presence of each other’s absence.” I could not help but smile at this having already experienced countless video conferencing meetings. The movement takes a more whimsical approach to the idea of trying to unify despite being disconnected. The strings play a great deal of pizzicato passages (I imagine separate boxes of heads in a Zoom meeting here) and, similar to the first movement, the music is often punctuated by sudden bursts of activity meant to recall the frustration we all felt during the inevitable technological glitches in the software during a meeting. The title of the final movement, when the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul, is taken from Psalm 94. The music is unexpectedly buoyant, optimistic, almost cheerful in the face of all challenges faced by so many. It is a reflection of my faith and an expectation that ultimately, everything will work out for the best despite current circumstances.