Finding Time (world premiere, LA Phil commission)
Finding Time was commissioned for the Los Angeles Philharmonic by ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers) in honor of ASCAP’s centenary, but any suggestion of historical search in the title is coincidental. The work is about finding time in a purely musical sense, searching for metrical stability in a powerfully agitated sound world of constantly shifting pulse, subdivisions speeding up and slowing down in the opening section. The piano drives the activity, with winds and strings emerging from its pounding furies.
This idea, varied by instrumental color and harmony, subsides in volume and pitch. And that larger pattern also repeats, like a passacaglia, with just enough sense of sequential familiarity that your ear can guess where each phrase and section is going – only it is probably wrong.
Eventually the music locks into a stable sense of toe-tapping pulse, though with the rhythmic patterns still off-kilter. Even the melodic phrases are blurred, “monophonic, but a touch out-of-tune,” the composer says. Entropy takes its toll, and disintegration and disorder appear in slow hazes as well as frantic explosions.
Fresh patterns evolve and morph with clear intimations of the opening, piano driven idea. For the coda, however, the piano is gone. Woodwinds and trumpet drop, distant and cold, into an eerie string chord – more distillation than benediction, the final punctuation a soft exhalation.
— John Henken