In trying to find a clear and recognizable language to write this piece, I have chosen some of the most basic, functionally tonal means: tonics and dominants in F minor, a modulation to the relative major (A-flat), and a three-part form which, through a retransition, recapitulates back to F minor. What I offer is not invention of new "words" or a new language but a new way to make sentences and paragraphs in a common, much-used existing language. I can create a more compelling musical argument with these means because, to my ears, potential rhetoric seems to fall out from such highly functional chords as tonics and dominants more than certain fixed sonorities and Pop chords that I have used before. My musical argument is dependent on a feeling of cause and effect, both on a local level where one chord releases the tension from a previous chord and on the larger structural level where a section is forced to follow a previous section by a coercive modulation. The orchestration does not seek color for its own sake, as decoration is not a high priority, but the instruments combine and double each other to create an insistent ensemble from beginning to end. Only occasionally, as in the middle A-flat section, do three woodwind instruments play alone for a short while to break the inertia of the ensemble forging its course together.
Ash was commissioned by the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra with support from the Jerome Foundation. Written between October and December 1988, it received its first performance on February 3, 1989, in St. Paul, conducted by John Adams.