from the ashes (2004) by Bruce Christian Bennett
for flute, clarinet, violin, viola, cello, piano, and percussion
World premiere; Earplay/Fromm commission

from the ashes was composed for Earplay at the request of violist Ellen Ruth Rose and conductor Mary Chun, and was made possible by a grant from the Fromm Foundation. The myth of the Phoenix provides the poetic inspiration for the piece — a cycle of immolation and renewal. Much of the music is borne out of the first dramatic gesture, about a minute into the piece, a violent outburst in the piano and vibraphone that excites the other instruments of the ensemble. This initial gesture is like the splash of a stone thrown into water, disturbing the calm, followed by the subsequent ripples from the impact. Moments of violence give way to periods of calm, which are often interrupted by further violence. This dichotomy frames the dialectic of the piece.

Compositionally, from the ashes is based on an underlying structural melody that provides not only melodic profile, but also form and harmonic content. This structural melody is not heard explicitly throughout most of the composition, though it does surface at a few points in the piece. From this Ur-melody, significant structural pitches are identified and then used to generate harmonies and modes based on simple frequency modulation synthesis algorithms. The resulting sequence of harmonic fields creates what could be thought of as a musical topography, which is navigated by the acts of composing, playing, and listening.

— B. B.    

[from program for February 8, 2010 concert]