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As if sharing a joke with nothingness (2023)

Symphony Orchestra

3 3[1.2.3/] 3[1.2.3/bcl] 3[1.2.3/cbsn] - 4 3 3 1 - timp+2 - str [14 12 10 8 6]

ca. 7 minutes​

Premiere: The Juilliard Orchestra and conductor Jeffrey Milarsky at Lincoln Center, Alice Tully Hall, in February 2024.

Program Note

As if sharing a joke with nothingness is inspired by and in dialogue with the “Time Passes” chapter in Virginia Woolf’s novel To The Lighthouse.


“So with the lamps all put out, the moon sunk, and a thin rain drumming on the roof a downpouring of immense darkness began. Nothing, it seemed, could survive the flood, the profusion of darkness which, creeping in at keyholes and crevices, stole round window blinds, came into bedrooms, swallowed up here a jug and basin, there a bowl of red and yellow dahlias, there the sharp edges and firm bulk of a chest of drawers. Not only was furniture confounded; there was scarcely anything left of body or mind by which one could say, ‘This is he’ or ‘This is she.’ Some- times a hand was raised as if to clutch something or ward off something, or somebody groaned, or somebody laughed aloud as if sharing a joke with nothingness.”

 –Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse


In this work, I wish to capture the musical, gestural, and sonic worlds of Woolf’s writing, as well as explore the intersections of music and language – through reflecting on the musicality of language, and the linguistic characteristics of music, partly by transfiguring the sonic qualities of the air, wind, and light, depicting their organic change over time. I further want to recontextualize essential themes in Woolf’s writings –the tension between somethingness and nothingness in space; the clustering of concepts like absence, decentering, vagueness, and emptiness; the dynamic of decay and coming-apart of materials; and, the historical heaviness that underlies and serves as the undertone of surface events.

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