Flux and Fire

Flux and Fire

Strings meet poetry
Robert Gibson
James Stern
Audrey Andrist
Robert Oppelt
Richard Barber
Jeffrey Weisner
Ali Kian Yazdanfar
Eric Kutz
Aeolus Quartet
Katherine Murdock
Catalog Number: 
new classical
double bass
string quartet

Olney, MD

Release Date: 
Jul 27, 2018
Liner Notes: 
1 CD
One Sheet: 

Since the 1980s, Robert Gibson has been working behind the scenes (or at least upstage) – as an accomplished jazz and orchestral bass player, and as School of Music Director at the University of Maryland. He has also been an active composer (his electroacoustic music, for instance, can be heard on National Geographic’s Explorer series). So it is high time he came center stage and we had a chance to hear his own chamber music.

Flux and Fire features Gibson’s works for stringed instruments that were inspired by poetry. The fluid boundaries between music and poetry as art – and to specific poems as inspiration for instrumental music – is a deeply personal one for the composer and is a defining characteristic of much of his music. Some of the poets he draws from include Alain Bosquet, Stanley Kunitz, Paul Muldoon, while the listener may discern allusions to the music of Debussy and Takemitsu.

On the various short movements of Twelve Poems the composer writes: “I was seeking an analogue for the ability of the poet to capture a particular moment and, further, an idea—more or less abstract—about the materials of the art and its forms.”

The title of the double bass quartet Soundings is a reference in part to the nautical term for measuring the depth of water. This term has an obvious connection to the double bass as the “deepest” sounding string instrument of the orchestra. As a professional bassist, the composer notes that this work is “a personal exploration of the instrument that is closest to me in my life as a musician.” This recording showcases four members of the National Symphony.

Two string quartets—an elegy and a feverish, restless essay on the energies of transformation—are the chronological bookends of this project. The quartets are framed in the album by three versions of Night Music, a solo work commissioned for the Third Triennial Johansen International Competition for Young String Players (2003) and written so that the work is suitable for performance on violin, viola or violoncello without any instrument-specific editing to the piece (other than transposition). Beyond this requirement, the composer sought to capture “a fleeting glimpse of lyricism and technical virtuosity arising from a soloist inspired by the mystery and poetry of the night.”

“mastery of compositional techniques and compelling inner poetry” — William Zagorski, Fanfare Magazine

“One of the musical highlights, Maryland composer Robert Gibson’s Twelve Poems, was an evocative set of short character pieces, by turns moody, colorful, and dynamic, as performed by its dedicatees, violinist James Stern and pianist Audrey Andrist. In each piece Gibson was able to translate a descriptive title into an appropriate sound image, from which the musical shape could evolve. In Wind Chimes it was sliding string harmonics against bell–tones for the piano that made the connection. Reflection was opaque and contemplative, in the form of palindrome. Waves emulated the patterns of growth and decay that we associate with sound waves, and Cloudburst combined intricately chromatic runs for the violin with short, percussive tone clusters in the piano. With Hommage the music took a detour into a quasi–Debussyan soundscape. Quatrain and Octave, the last two pieces, used their respective intervals prominently, ending the work with a rush and a clarion flourish." — from San Francisco Classical Voice.



"Image rich and poetically inclined, Robert Gibson’s music carries itself with a lightly-worn intensity as stringent as it is supple." [FULL ARTICLE] - Michael Quinn


"Very well recorded and superbly performed, this is an attractive and worthwhile programme of fine music for strings. It wins plaudits for sheer variety, but Robert Gibson’s voice is distinctive and memorable whatever the instrumentation." [FULL ARTICLE] - Dominy Clements


"eerie...thoughtful...Cerebrations galore" [FULL ARTICLE]


"The fragmentary nature of the melodic themes, the timbre researches on the sound, the interesting thematic elaborations and the alternation between the registers highlight a very sophisticated personal compositional style. Offerings is a prime example of it, with serene and dilated moments alternating more articulate and detached inventions rich in dissonance and very interesting rhythms." [FULL ARTICLE] - Luciano Feliciani