aft agley (2015)
"Aft Agley" is a piece of music for orchestra that is essentially about its own composition. The music begins with a single expansive sonority in the string orchestra that constantly shifts in texture as it grows from the smallest sound of a soloist to the loudest sound possible for the ensemble over the course of 90 seconds. The rest of the piece is made up of a series of responses to this initial prolonged gesture. Each of these possible answers, or "attempts" as I like to call them, in turn presents a different interpretation of the opening material, building to a head before collapsing in on itself. This is in fact where the piece gets its (admittedly) bizarre name. The title is a reference to the 1785 Scottish poem "Tae A Moose" by Robert Burns which includes the famous line, "The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men/ Gang aft agley". That second line translates from Scotts to read "often go awry". And boy does it. Each time a section of the work fails to stand as a complete response to the opening, the next enters with an even bleaker attitude: initial confidence returns beleaguered, false triumph dissolves into blurry confusion, and at one point the music becomes a sarcastic and frustrated waltz before throwing a temper tantrum. When the "right answer" is finally found, it's with a simple resolution of the original chord which was there all along. Following this short respite, the many ideas that once conflicted in different sections of the piece, come together to create a unified force for the first time. The piece is intended to be a reflection of what artists struggle with in their work: the constant search for a means of expression that is somehow simple but still inevitable. There are always a multitude of options for what an artist can construct based on their initial concept, but it is exceptionally difficult to find the one execution that simply works. Whether this particular piece of music lives up to that end… well, that's up to the listener.