“Confrontations” for piano quintet and percussion

My name is Jackson Reed, and I’m a Computer Science and Music major graduating in ’21. This semester, under the instruction of professor Del Case, I composed “Confrontations”, a piece of music for two violins, viola, cello, piano, and percussion. This was the culmination of a few semesters of composition study with professor Case; an opportunity to deploy my training in form, orchestration, and thematic development in a larger-scale work that could be performed on campus.

Due to COVID safety restrictions on performance, I was unable to include wind instruments or voices in my ensemble. In trying to make the most of our remaining options, we settled on an instrumentation that is fairly standard except for the addition of the percussion part, which supplements the string and piano sounds with a variety of interesting colors. With the instrumentation decided, my next goal was to generate thematic material that I could then arrange and elaborate on. I produced several themes and professor Case helped me select one that would serve as a strong basis for my piece. We decided on a form in which repetitions of a single, central theme would be separated by contrasting sections. As I worked out these sections, I met weekly with professor Case, who helped me revise them to make sure I was presenting my ideas clearly, concisely, and thoroughly. When composing I am often challenged by a tendency to present too many new ideas too quickly, which results in short and incoherent forms; with this piece, I aimed to appropriately develop each new idea before introducing further new material.

In its first iteration, the piece’s main theme is apprehensive, hesitant; but each intervening section allows its recurrences to take on new qualities. After a more resolute, rhythmic section which features the percussion, it returns with a new gentle confidence and serenity. A slow lyrical section featuring the cello follows; then, growing in intensity towards the piece’s climax, all of the parts begin to incessantly repeat a new motive, fragmenting it, expanding and contracting it, and juxtaposing it with segments of the main theme. Finally, the theme returns again with new strength and clarity, its apprehension transformed into resolve and desperation. This transformation comprises the piece’s essential identity.

The title “Confrontations”, introduced late in the process of composition, is derived from an experience that was ongoing during the piece’s composition. Under the circumstances brought on by COVID, I found much of my face-to-face socialization replaced by written, more carefully-considered “confrontations”. The profound effect this had on the way I developed relationships and handled conflicts inspired, at least partially, the dramatic arc of the piece. Just as the piece carefully introduces and develops themes and motives, I have found myself, more than ever, fixated on symbols and themes that appear and re-appear in my life, developing and taking on new meaning; and I have become more acutely aware of how I structure and communicate these themes. I would challenge the listener to consider each characteristic section of the piece as a unique sort of confrontation, and observe how the piece’s themes develop as a result of each.

“Confrontations” will be premiered as part of this year’s orchestra concert, a recording of which will be made available online.