West of the Sun, for large wind ensemble (2012)

Duration: 9:30 minutes

Instrumentation: piccolo, 4 flutes, 2 oboes, english horn, e-flat clarinet, 6 b-flat clarinets, bass clarinet, b-flat contrabass clarinet, 3 bassoons, 2 alto saxes, tenor sax, baritone sax, 6 b-flat trumpets, 4 horns, 3 trombones, bass trombone, 2 euphoniums, 2 tubas, double bass, timpani, 5 percussionists, harp, piano

Premiere: February 23, 2012 at the NeXt Festival of Contemporary Music by the University of Georgia Wind Ensemble, conducted by Dr. John Lynch


     West of the Sun, for wind ensemble, was inspired by a passage in Haruki Murakami’s 1992 novel South of the Border, West of the Sun. I was drawn to Murakami’s often-surreal writing, his juxtaposition of the everyday with extraordinary images told in an inimitable, matter-of-fact style. In this novel, one of the characters describes a form of madness: 

Try to imagine this. You're a farmer, living all alone on the Siberian tundra. Day after day you plow your fields. As far as the eye can see, nothing. To the north, the horizon, to the east, the horizon, to the south, to the west, more of the same. Every morning, when the sun rises in the east, you go out to work in your fields. When it's directly overhead, you take a break for lunch. When it sinks in the west, you go home to sleep…And then one day, something inside you dies…You toss your plow aside and, your head completely empty of thought, begin walking toward the west. Heading toward a land that lies west of the sun. Like someone possessed, you walk on, day after day, not eating or drinking, until you collapse on the ground and die. 

     I found this idea both haunting and very beautiful; the image of a lone wanderer against an immense, barren landscape suggested strange and hypnotic music.

      My piece begins with the landscape itself, an empty, vast space. A solo English horn enters with a simple melody, which is blurred and distorted by the ensemble. After this opening section suddenly breaks off, a bizarre series of chords (my musical representation of the madness) leads into the “traveling” section, when the music seems to wander without rest, getting more and more agitated leading up to the climactic return of the bizarre chords. The short coda brings back a shadow of the opening melody, which evaporates to nothing.