Lost Songs (2018) for Clarinet and String Quartet
Image copyright © Mike Scott
Lost Songs was written for the musicians of the Los Angeles Philharmonic for Princeton University Concerts’ 125th Anniversary, presented as part of Gustavo Dudamel's Artist-in-Residence Series. The first performance will be given at Richardson Auditorium in Princeton on January 7, 2019.
We live in cycles, with birth and death being the primary conditions of our existence. The simple act of breathing encapsulates the cyclic nature of life. Song does too, though perhaps in a more abstract way. In song, a call awaits a response; in song, silence is broken and inevitably restored.
The two main materials of Lost Songs are breaths and the songs of the now extinct Kauai ʻōʻō bird (Moho braccatus). Thane Pratt’s 1976 recording from Cornell’s Macaulay Library captures the last call of the species, presumably that of a lone male looking in vain for a mate. It is a beautiful recording; the ʻōʻō sings with a distinctive flute-like tone. I began Lost Songs by transcribing and simplifying the ʻōʻō’s songs. I then extracted fragments from my transcription and treated them as musical motives. These song fragments are juxtaposed with breaths, tolling bells, and other gestures that evoke feelings of time and sorrow. While I found it necessary in this piece to confront darkness, in the end I was more interested in celebrating life. If the last calls of the ʻōʻō bird went unanswered in the forests of Kauai, in my music, they are not only answered, but transformed and multiplied into a choir of birds. In this depiction of a paradise, I sought respite from a recurring sense of loss. Loss may be complete and permanent to our physical world, but not to our memory, nor to our music.