• John Harbison
  • Cortège (2008)

  • Associated Music Publishers Inc (World)

Commissioned by Bradford and Dorothea Endicott for Frank Epstein and the New England Conservatory Percussion Ensemble

  • 6 perc
  • 15 min

Programme Note

As soon as I began considering this percussion piece my dear and irreplaceable friend Donald Sur took his place in it. This it not the moment to try to describe Donald Sur as composer (with a unique ear for the incantatory power of percussion instruments) or as comrade (ideally the piece has some of that, even some anger, after ten years, at losing him).

This piece took a long time in conception, very little at the writing desk, where each of the three movements was essentially written straight out. The first was a drafted during a reception for one of MIT’s most distinguished professors, Millie Dresselhaus, on party-favor postcards, in green crayon. The second, which refers most directly to Donald Sur’s oblique sensibility, was mostly written on the Eastern Regional train.

I had expected to be writing the piece in Italy, a trip that was unexpectedly cancelled. The place I had rented in Umbria was between two churches, who were to ring their bells at least hourly from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. The agency issued a provident warning to their composer client, but I actually like the idea. It became part of the rhymes, refrains, and rituals of this cortege, closing out the third movement.

— John Harbison