pine tree, dreaming (2008)

(being the pine tree II)
2 violins, 2 violas, 2 celli
15 min.

pine tree, dreaming was originally composed for solo accordion in 2007, although the idea for this version for string sextet occurred to me early on. The harmonic palette I had chosen and the sound colors of the accordion’s crystalline upper register seemed to lend themselves perfectly to the natural harmonics of string instruments. The titles of both versions are taken from the poet Bashō, who wrote, “When you depict a pine tree, you must become the pine tree,” referring to the Zen concept of non-duality between object and observer, or the dissolution of the self into the wider continuum of creation. Bashō’s point was that an artistic evocation of a tree must not be a faithful description or graphic representation of it, but rather a timeless distillation of the being of that tree in its surroundings, independent of any pre-existing concept of “tree”. Simply put, to depict a thing must be to know it intimately, and to know is to be. Thus, the artistic presentation becomes a devotional act, like meditation.

As one might expect from the above, the music is extremely, predominantly slow; it is marked by long pauses and contains few notated rhythms, with long phrases expanding and contracting in the manner of deep, calm breaths. Although interrupted toward the end by a brief episode of frantic improvisation, the piece forsakes virtuosic intensity entirely; or rather, turns it inward, slowing it down infinitely, reaching toward a pure state of awareness and focus in an attempt to bring the performing experience closer to the searing clarity of what, for lack of a better term, one could call enlightenment.

pine tree, dreaming was composed in 2009, and was premiered at the Kuhmo Chamber Music Festival the following summer.

Not yet become a Buddha,
this ancient pine tree,

– Matsuo Bashō