View From Mt. Nebo

 View from Mt. Nebo, scored for piano trio,was commissioned by Garth Newel Chamber Players, an ensemble with its home base in Warm Springs, Virginia, on a sprawling estate of rolling hills. The concert hall is an intimate space in a reconstructed horse barn, lined with wood, with excellent acoustics. At the time I composed this piece, in 1985, Arlene and Luca dDiCecco (violinist and cellist), were the core members of the team, and they ran the program, primarily in the summer season, though there were also weekend getaways that included music and meals! I had a wonderful experience with them and pianist Paul Nitsch when I stayed at Garth Newel (Welsh for ‘new home’) to rehearse with them and attend the premiere.

As I started the piece, I thought about the compositional process and the effort to reach and actualize one’s compositional vision. Attaining that initial vision often seems like quite a struggle, and as one nears it can morph and seem to dissipate. It put me in mind of the journey of Moses, looking from Mt. Nebo to the Promised Land he would never reach, striving for a goal that was always beyond possibility. It is the same mountaintop Martin Luther King Jr. referred to in his I Have a Dream speech, again speaking to the arrival point that looms in a distance.  The landscape of this region of the middle east has a personal resonance. I spent a year in Israel as an undergraduate student, and felt the power of this monumental landscape, with its compelling starkness, luminous atmosphere and historical depth. The music reflects the idea of the journey towards an impossible goal, as well as the joy at having reaching another, perhaps more meaningful, one.

View from Mt. Nebo is cast in three movements. The first reflects the dark struggle of the journey; the second is a meditation on faith; the third a radiant acceptance of fate. Tucked into the third movement is a reference to the Bach chorale Es Ist Genug, used for a similar purpose by Berg in his Violin Concerto. View from Mt. Nebo has been recorded by Da Capo Chamber Players on a disk of my chamber music called Dreamtigers. That title, of my piece for flute and guitar, resonates with that of the piano trio. Dreamtigers itself is named for a prose-poem by Jorge Luis Borges, in which he speaks of dreaming of tigers, but when he tries to find them, they dissipate. Again, what one reaches for is always somewhere beyond reach.

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