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A Long Weight of Silence

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2021
9 min.

Flute

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Program Notes
I vividly remember March 12, 2020, when a Kansas City Symphony staff member interrupted a meeting I was in to announce that the mayor had declared a state of emergency. That was the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic for me. It quickly led to the postponement, then cancellation, of a few Symphony concerts, then a month of concerts, then the entire remainder of the 2019-20 season. Thus began a long period of silence that many artists and patrons of the arts felt as a heavy weight: the “great pause” of live music, dance, and theatre. Early in the pandemic I read an article by David Kessler, co-author of On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief through the Five Stages of Loss. He wrote that what everyone was feeling was a collective sense of grief. We could feel denial, anger, bargaining, and depression, sometimes within the span of a week, or a day, or even all at the same time. He encouraged his readers to let themselves feel their grief and then move through it to acceptance, where we find power to act. He also talked about the sixth stage of grief, meaning, which can bring light out of the darkness. A Long Weight of Silence is a reflection and meditation on the pandemic through the lens of the six stages of grief. The piece is written in eight movements. i. intro: A premonition of what is to come. The flutes introduce the primary themes of the piece through a combination of traditional playing and extended techniques: blowing air through the flute, timbral trills (using two different fingerings for the same note), and Aeolian sounds (a mix of traditional tone and air noise). Tension grows quickly, with quotes from Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony and Stravinsky’s ballet Pétrouchka — two pieces the Kansas City Symphony had programmed that were canceled by the pandemic. The movement ends with a frenzied run upward that is suddenly cut off. ii. silence: This movement symbolizes the silence of canceled performances using literal silence and suggestions of it through extended techniques. iii. denial: The performers face each other. The music tries to remain upbeat despite a growing sense of unease. Even as the performers continue facing each other, they take cautious steps backward. iv. anger: The performers turn away from each other. The music conveys anger through tongue pizzicato, sharp trills and fluttertonguing, as well as a quotation from Brahms’ First Symphony (another canceled piece). v. bargaining: The two flute parts try to bargain with each other, offering musical material that is quickly rejected by the other part. vi. depression: The performers sit and revisit the lament from the first movement. vii. acceptance: The performers stand; the lament theme is transformed into a glimmer of hope. viii. meaning: The performers face each other again and play a repeated melodic line. The two parts are separated at first by three beats, but come progressively closer together. The performers begin to take steps toward each other. In the final measures, the two parts finally line up in unison as the piece, and the lights, fade. A Long Weight of Silence was composed for Michael Gordon, Principal Flute of the Kansas City Symphony, who premiered the piece in an online video on December 3, 2021.
Ensemble Name
Michael Gordon, flute

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