A piece for violin and piano is one I had long wanted to write, and Dust was a welcome break from working with larger forces just before and after. Originally intended as the first half of an equally balanced two-part Sonata, this movement quickly grew long and unwieldy for what I had planned, owing to the dictates of the musical materials themselves. The immediate solution was to complete Dust, and return at a later date to contribute a second part worthy of the cause. In years since, at least three valiant missions toward completing the task have gone down in flames. For the time being, this music intends to stand alone, and so I’m content to oblige.
The opening material, which returns to close, flanks a contrasting middle meant to stand a kind of polar opposite in tempo, behavior and character. Marked haltingly, with widely-spaced events in the piano, the violin enters pathétique, high on the deep fourth string of the instrument. I made the decision to have the long, widely-spaced line on the string purely as a timbral one, but watching a player’s efforts in executing the awkward difficulty of it in performance haunts me, as it seems to mirror my feeling about that music precisely. The music of the middle section seems at once preoccupied and darting, as well as fixated, obsessive and insistent. The two instruments are often sharing material, jockeying for position.
Such a race seems to me like nothing new in the genre, from works of Beethoven and Brahms, through the Fauré and Ravel Sonatas and beyond. This pair of instruments is a team of rivals if there ever was one; any struggle for predominance is at once laudable and futile. Perhaps aside from keyboard and voice, no duo has seen a more fruitful exploration in the repertoire—a testament to composer’s continued fascination in the possibilities of a virtuoso partnership.
Dust is dedicated to Benjamin Sung and Ji-hye Chang, who gave the first performance in February 2009, at Barnes Hall, Cornell University in Ithaca NY.
— Sean Shepherd
This program note may be reproduced free of charge in concert programs with a credit to the composer.