writing for solo instruments

Ask composers what the most difficult thing to compose is and many would say that it’s writing a solo work. Compared with writing for an ensemble or for orchestra where one has a range of colours to work with, as well as many options for contrasting textures that can give immediate dynamism to the music, writing for a solo instrument can feel a bit limited. Or rather, painting with ink on paper makes different technical demands than working with oil paints on canvas. Like Chinese ink painting, writing a solo piece can leave one feeling exposed but it also thrives on that exposure; it challenges one to articulate form with reduced means.

I’m possibly somewhat better equipped to tackle solo pieces these days and I’ve found that reduction has opened up some wonderful riches. This year I’ve written works for solo woodblock (ok, that must count as the ultimate challenge), solo violin and solo double bass. There are some surprises in each so I’m looking forward to hearing their premieres later this year and in early 2018.

An Elemental Thing, for solo woodblock, 9′
written for Eugene Ughetti, commissioned by Speak Percussion

The Su Song Star Map, for solo violin, 12′
written for Ashot Sarkissjan

The Table of Knowledge, for solo double bass (with voice & preparation), 18′
written for Florentin Ginot, commissioned by Acht Brücken|Musik für Köln

There’s a solo trumpet piece lurking inside this ensemble work:

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