• pf
  • 11 min

Programme Note

I've always been intimidated by the piano. As a performer, I never played it very well. And as a composer I've never felt as though I could make the instrument my own.

On a recent trip to New York, I heard the premiere performance of a lovely chamber work by Kyle Gann that embraces multiple tempos without sustaining them all at the same time. On the way home to Alaska, I passed through Seattle. In the Seattle airport there's a large painting by Frank Stella. It's one of his protractor works, in which arcs of bright colors weave in and out of one another in a dizzying counterpoint of imaginary planes. Studying this painting, (after hearing Gann's music), it occurred to me that I might be able to do something similar with the piano.

Virtually all my recent music has been composed of four, five or six simultaneous tempo layers. If those ensemble and orchestral pieces are multi-dimensional sculptures, then Among Red Mountains is more like a drawing. In this piece, the challenge I set for myself was to suggest five independent tempo planes, within the limitations of two hands and what pianist Vicki Ray calls "the Big Black Box".

For three decades, I've admired the piano music of Peter Garland. At last I have a piece that I hope is worthy of this dedication.

The title, Among Red Mountains, is the translation of the Gwich'in Athabascan name for a place in the Brooks Range, north of Arctic Village.

John Luther Adams