Respecting the First (Amendment)

Instrumentation: String Orchestra and Electronics
Duration: 14:30
Commission: San Jose Chamber Orchestra
Premiere: 3/29/20
San José City Hall Rotunda
San José, CA

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Program Notes:
The first amendment, with its protections of speech, religion, the press, and the right of people to peaceably assemble and petition the government for a redress of grievances, lies at the heart of our democracy. Inspired by the fundamental importance of this amendment, I composed Respecting the First, for amplified string quartet and electronics, on commission from the Fromm Foundation for the Cassatt Quartet in 2011.

Since then, with the increasing uptick of attacks on the first amendment, I was especially pleased with the commission from Barbara Day Turner, the intrepid conductor of the San Jose Chamber Orchestra, for a new piece for string orchestra and electronics inspired by this same topic. While I kept some of the original electronic sources, including the reading of the first amendment by Gabrielle Gifford on the floor of the House, I also added new ones, and transformed their trajectory, as well as substantially changing, and adding to, the string parts. The electronics include voices from figures such as JFK and Pete Seeger,  as well as those of family, friends, colleagues, and a cameo appearance of my own. And, while these provide the sole source material for the electronics, I have radically processed some, turning them into music.

At a time when the rights guaranteed by this amendment are disputed, and when knotty issues surrounding the limits of free speech have come to the fore, Respecting the First (Amendment) reminds us of what is at stake. The music embodies and responds to the verbal rhythms of this text. It also refers to two songs of our common heritage, musically questioning whether they can still bind us together.

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