My compositions fall loosely into two categories, abstract instrumental works bringing modern and sometimes vernacular qualities to art music tradition, and text-based works increasingly concerned with viewing American myths through a lens of modernity. I am especially drawn to string instruments and the string quartet in particular, and as a pianist have also written a good deal of piano music. My music is founded in a belief in the expressive power of harmony, and its ability to create meaning outside of the strictures of any particular system.
I have recently completed several compositions springing from events in American history. Our American Cousin is an opera that tells the story of the night Lincoln was assassinated at Ford's Theater from the perspective of the actors presenting the Broadway comedy of the same name. The mixture of stage and history provides a narrative that is both serious and comic, and musically the work is an amalgam of arias and ensemble numbers with sustained music drama. A smaller-scale collaboration with opera librettist John Shoptaw and choreographer Wendy Woodson yielded Itasca, a poem for voices and live electronics, based on the 1832 exploration to the Mississippi headwaters by Henry Schoolcraft and Oza Windib. The Humble Heart, a cantata based on traditional texts from the American Shakers, traces an evolution between community rites of self-mastery and mystical experience. In my vocal music I am drawn toward the exploration of new ways of performing text, including in Itasca a technique of metrically moored speech in ensemble with fully notated song, as well as toward the probing the instrumental boundaries of the voice through non-textual vocalizations.
I am fascinated by the range of musical traditions and media now available to the composer, and with the challenges of making sense of them compositionally. I believe diverse traditions can be brought together coherently with the aid of a strongly developed compositional technique and full personal engagement with all musical materials. This would seem to me to be one of the truly interesting prospects in the field in the immediate future, as art music reshapes itself in a new century.