Tree of Life

I was very saddened and—perhaps more important—angered and disgusted to see the news of the attack on a synagogue in my hometown of Pittsburgh on October 27. While I did not know those who were taken from us through this terrible act, I know people who knew them, and I know the neighborhood of Squirrel Hill well. It is one of the many lovely and close-knit communities in Pittsburgh and its center of Jewish life.

Watching the continued senseless slaughter of people who’ve done nothing but commit the offense of “existing in the United States” from the other side of the world (and in a place with virtually zero gun crime) has only intensified the sick sense that my country is crumbling from within, and needlessly so. Rather than feeling hopeless, however, each new act of destruction on the part of sick individuals or a minority-elected government has inspired me to fight harder in the ways that I can to move (I cannot truly say return….) the country in the right direction.

With all this in mind—and for the first time ever in my mature creative life—I have felt not just the urge but the need to compose a work with a connection to current events. My works have been inspired by aspects of history, installation art, poetry, and, of course, other music, among many other things. However, I have rarely felt comfortable with the idea of writing a work “about” something that has happened, especially something as impacting as an event like this. Therefore, this will not be a work “about” this tragic event; it will not be programmatic. But it will have something to do with tension and something to do with pain and something to do with finding something positive amidst intense struggle. It will be my artistic response to this event.

As it happens, I have recently been talking with the stellar violinist, Olivia De Prato, first violinist of the Mivos Quartet and a dynamic soloist in her own right, about writing a new work. (Mivos gave an excellent premiere of my City Lights at the VIPA Festival in Valencia, Spain last summer.)   Therefore, I have begun sketching a solo violin work, Tree of Life, for her, which I hope will represent, if only in a small way, some of my feelings about this event. Olivia will be visiting Hong Kong and HKBU this coming January for a series of lectures and demonstrations, so I hope to have the work fleshed out enough to share with her at that time. I think it is fitting that I write for violin—an instrument I studied from a young age—in a work whose expressions will be so close to my heart.