In the fall of 2003, I was approached about a joint project between Juilliard and the Royal Academy of Music in London. An ensemble consisting of members from both schools would present concerts in New York and London in October 2004, and three composers selected from each school would compose a commissioned work and tour with the group. Joel Sachs chose a host piece to create a theme for the project. The piece would be performed on the concerts, followed by the works of the six chosen composers, who would respond to it in any way they felt.
The collection of 5 short pieces, or Metamorphoses, I wrote in response to Anton Webern’s Concerto for nine instruments, Op. 24, reflects my attempt to integrate those qualities I admire most about his writing into a piece I could call my own. His brilliant formal and textural economy, graceful sense of both gesture and color, and his ability to convey poignant musical thought in a brief and concise way were things I had long admired, and thus became the issues I grappled with in these miniatures.
What makes them unrelated to the Webern is what also gave them their title. Webern’s three movements each evoke a distinct atmosphere or character, and in large part due to his musical obsessiveness with clarity, the character of each does not change or mutate, even though his pitches may change. In each of my pieces, I sought to create an atmosphere, then spend the rest of the movement altering it or moving away completely while still keeping the same essential musical elements—a cell or gesture, sometimes even the same pitches. So, by using my senses (such as those I admire in Webern), I tried to keep each movement in a constant of metamorphosis, the rate and mode of which occur in varying degrees from piece to piece.
I dedicate these Metamorphoses to my teacher and mentor Robert Beaser with gratitude. Many thanks also to Professors Joel Sachs and Simon Bainbridge for posing a difficult musical question, for which any number of answers would be correct.
— Sean Shepherd
This program note may be reproduced free of charge in concert programs with a credit to the composer.