I’m working on new versions of two old pieces of mine, a process that would normally be more maddening than enjoyable, but in this case the process has been very pleasant.
One of them is an arrangement of a piano solo for two pianists. I’ve never written a successful piano duo, partly because I couldn’t find a satisfying way to sustain the use of all four hands for any amount of time. Attending a piano duo concert a few weeks ago, it struck me how wonderfully 3-hand piano works – that, in fact, the way to go about it is to write a 3-hand piece with the fourth hand occasionally added in, just at the moments of greatest density. As long as the fourth hand isn’t always the same one, an immense textural and interactive variety is available. That reminded me that I had a solo piece I had written a couple of years ago which had left me unsatisfied by what I was able to accomplish with just two hands, so now I am rethinking it as a piano duo. Some ¾ of the way through at this point, I’m feeling very happy with how it’s going.
The other arrangement is a commission to create an orchestral version of Poke, a cello/bass duo. Where the piano duo is offering me an expanded pallet of pitch material, this orchestration offers an expanded pallet of timbral possibilities – which I am politely declining. Poke won’t benefit from a colorful setting – it can only work through an arrangement that captures the black-and-white clarity of the original. Since orchestras aren’t afforded the amount of rehearsal time given to chamber music, though, I’m having to rethink some of the metrical complexity. Where the original featured patterns that defied the ear’s efforts to group into recognizable collections, the orchestral version will have to find large structures to feed the local shifts into, so that everyone involved can maintain their bearings. At the same time, it’s giving me an expanded pallet of possibilities to achieve the metrical shenanigans I’m after. Much more creative, and enjoyable, than just plugging notes into instruments.