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Composed: 2015
Length: c. 17 minutes
Orchestration: piccolo, 2 flutes, oboe, English horn, 2 clarinets, bassoon, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombone, tuba, timpani, percussion (glockenspiel, crotales, tambourine, woodblock, gong, tam-tam, snare drum, bass drum), harp, piano, and strings
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performances (world premiere)

Quilting, commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, is my first stand-alone work for orchestra and is loosely inspired by the American tradition of quilt making. I composed Quilting while living most of last year in Paris. During my time there, I thought a lot about what it means to compose symphonic music as a young American in the 21st century, when so many of the masterworks which are programmed year in and out by orchestras across the country are European. I considered which artistic traditions defined the American 19th-century. I began to think of the American crafts tradition of quilting as a foil to the high-art tradition of European orchestral composition.  

As the score for my new work began to take shape, I started thinking about the manuscript itself as an object, its vertical and horizontal planes creating a kind of patterned geometry of their own. Visually, the way a musical score is woven together like patchwork brought to mind quilts and the great American tradition of quilting. I imagined about how conducting an orchestra can feel like stitching a piece together, or sewing together a large number of musical ideas and musicians into a coherent and transcendent whole. 

Quilting was an integral part of American vernacular in the 18th and 19th centuries – the African-American quilting tradition is especially fascinating – and the quilts tell the stories of the women and communities who made them. The names of the quilt patterns themselves can have their own sense of narrative: “Jacob’s ladder,” “drunkards path,” “Solomon’s puzzle,” and (my favorite for its relevance to this piece) “the road to California.”

— Bryce Dessner