This Soul to Tend for Piano Trio (2016)
Premiered May 9, 2016 by Vi Trio (Danny Koo, violin; Jonah Ellsworth, cello; and Jung-A Bang, piano) at Jordan Hall, Boston.
This Soul to Tend is a narrative of discovery and a meditation on reconciliation. This piece grows from two primary “seeds”—Brahms’s Piano Trio in C minor, Op. 101 and a cantus firmus of my own devising. Interspersed and woven together with the seeds are two secondary “constants”: wispy, cadenza-like material appearing only in the piano, and an unyielding, belligerent, and often violent rhythmic motive. The latter ideas frequently impose themselves without warning, interrupting the seeds’ streams-of-consciousness. While the primary “seeds” are developmental in nature—always searching and finding new ways to express themselves—the secondary “constants” are defiantly static.
The fundamental dichotomies (borrowed music vs. new ideas; growth vs. constancy) result in the piece taking frequent, unexpected turns, as if it is trying to reconcile the conflicts inherent to its foundation. The resulting atmosphere of searching and desperate longing drives the music to a breaking point, and the piece nearly unravels. In the end, a “constant” provides a sense of closure, tending, in a sense, to the soul of a piece driven to the point of near defeat.