Dreams of Flight

Dreams of Flight was inspired by Nancy Rubins’ colossal sculpture Chas’ Stainless Steel, Mark Thompson’s Airplane Parts, about 1,000 lbs. of Stainless Steel Wire & Gagosian’s Beverly Hills Space. From a small metal plinth erupts an assemblage of scrapped airplane parts, chaotically billowing outwards in all directions—an explosion, frozen milliseconds after it has begun. Every inch of the work contains its own maelstrom of metal objects and wires, slicing and striking glancing blows as they whiz by each other.

Up close, the sculpture is visually overstimulating, hard to fully comprehend. From farther away, the disjunct parts seem to form a whole: a confused spaceship, a Frankensteinian flying machine, a strange, ungainly bird attempting to take flight. As much as Rubins’ sculpture is boisterous, it is also melancholic. It stretches upwards, yearning to fly but, tamped down by about one-thousand pounds of stainless steel, it never will. The sculpture is eternally stuck in mid-takeoff.

Dreams of Flight plays out this struggle in ways both fanciful and sincere. The piece is in three continuous sections. The first imagines the sculpture-plane-bird hybrid bolting down a runway. Just as it leaves the tarmac, however, it crashes back to Earth. A second section delves into the sculpture’s night-time dreams, in which, if only in fantasy, it finally soars. The final section sees the sculpture make another attempt at flight, barreling down the runway with even more power—perhaps enough power this time…

(Photo by Brian Guido. Courtesy of Nancy Rubins.)


In my final year as a student at Oberlin, I was given the opportunity to write a work for Tim Weiss and the Oberlin Sinfonietta. The work would not only be my largest project to date but would also, I hoped, serve as something of a musical conclusion to my time at the school. I knew immediately that I wanted to write the piece for two people who have had a greater role in shaping my experience at Oberlin than most: Josephine Stockwell and Nicholas Gallitano.

I also wanted to write for another influential duo: my grandfathers. Both of my grandfathers passed away in recent years, and it has been a personal goal of mine to remember them in music. The idea, then, was born: a work for a pair of indomitable musicians to commemorate another pair of indomitable people.

Concertante has three continuous movements. The first, Bounce, is a series of vivacious dances, celebrations of the spirit of all four of my dedicatees, and an exploration of Josephine and Nicholas’s virtuosity. As well as referring to the character of the music, the title, Bounce, has a second meaning. I took the title from the Stephen Sondheim musical of the same name. The show opens with the lyrics, “We’ve come a long way. / We’ve been through a lot. / We’ve learned how to bounce.” To bounce, for Sondheim as well as myself, is not just to move up and down, but forward, to bounce back, to be resilient.

The second movement, A Still Heart, is a lamentation for my grandfathers. The music is for them, but it has no program. It is just a musical wail, a single crescendo beginning with a simple, almost naïve melody in the piano that is eventually twisted and contorted into a feverish canon that ends with a screaming unison between the two soloists.

The third movement, Bounce Again, returns to material from the first movement. Rather than reach the same triumphal climax, however, Bounce Again ultimately dissolves into material from the second movement, A Still Heart. The previous jubilation of the movement has been tempered by the acknowledgement of loss. All that is left is a quiet, tranquil music, but a music that is perhaps not so naïve anymore.

With the deepest gratitude and admiration, I give this piece to Josephine and Nicholas, Raphael and Bruno.