Caldera with Ice Cave

The creation of this work grows out of a sustained admiration for two staples of the soloist/orchestra repertoire: Harold in Italy of Berlioz and Don Quixote of Strauss. The transformation of a visual or literary image into musical terms puts the composer on the cusp of dramaturgy with the added ambiguity of abstraction that cannot occur with real characters in an opera.

In 1997 I visited the Bandera Volcano and Ice cave in northern New Mexico and an immediate emotional reaction to the two contiguous forbidding landscapes: the volcano crater, hot and dry with strange and sparse vegetation, vs. the ice cave bathed in reflected sulphurous light, unnaturally cold suggesting unknown dangers. At the same time I started to fashion a piece which would set up such sonic dichotomies, not in the progromatic sense but in the sense of blatant contrasts. Over the period of two years the piece went through three generations, first as an orchestra piece with percussion solo, then as a wind ensemble piece with a variety of keyboards, and finally as a duet for piano and strings. Although it might be possible to perform the work with all solo strings, a large, massed string ensemble is more appropriate (minimum 4,4,4,4,3,3,2,2,1). The structure is cast in two movements, with much of the material exisitng in separate development between the movements, so many musical ideas develop into two different personae, particularly in the piano part.

Although the piano has two extended solos, it is not to be construed as the focus of a concerto, since it also forms the backbone of various chamber music sub groups, like the piano trio which emerges out of the ensemble in Movement I. personified after Berlioz's viola or Strauss's violoncello, the piano is like a wandering naturalist in confrontation with the apparently unnatural caldera with its ice cave. Reality is both repudiated and enhanced by the encounter: a recurring series of chords, which also ends the piece, becomes the frozen landscape of memory.