Innova 634

American Midlife

Orchestral Music of David Dzubay


1          Snake Alley  (1989/98)           10:20

                        Kirk Trevor, conductor


2          Siren Song  (1987/97) 7:42

                        David Dzubay, conductor


3          Ra!  (1997)      4:30

                        David Dzubay, conductor


4          Shadow Dance  (2002)           9:57

                        Kirk Trevor, conductor


            American Midlife  (2004)       (15:47)

            Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra

5                      Present            5:42

6                      Past     5:43

7                      Future  4:22

                        Kirk Trevor, conductor; Tasha Dzubay, clarinet


8          …as filaments of memory spin…  (1996/97)  10:06

                        Kirk Trevor, conductor


Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra



David Dzubay was born in 1964 in Minneapolis, grew up in Portland, Oregon, and earned a D.M. in Composition at Indiana University in 1991. Additional study was undertaken as a Koussevitzky Fellow in Composition at the Tanglewood Music Center (1990), the June in Buffalo Festival, and as co-principal trumpet of the National Repertory Orchestra in Colorado (1988, 1989).  His principal teachers were Donald Erb, Frederick Fox, Eugene O’Brien, Lukas Foss, Oliver Knussen, Allan Dean and Bernard Adelstein.

            David Dzubay’s music has been performed in the U.S., Europe, Canada, Mexico, and Asia, by ensembles including the symphony orchestras of Aspen, Atlanta, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Detroit, Honolulu, Kansas City, Louisville, Memphis, Minnesota, Oregon, Oakland, St. Louis and Vancouver; the American Composers Orchestra, National Symphonies of Ireland and Mexico, New World Symphony, National Repertory Orchestra and New York Youth Symphony; and ensembles including Le Nouvel Ensemble Moderne (Montreal), Onix (Mexico), Voices of Change (Dallas), the Alexander and Orion String Quartets, the League/ISCM and the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players. His music has been championed by soloists including Christine Schadeberg, Thomas Robertello, Corey Cerovsek, Carter Enyeart, Howard Klug, Eric Nestler and David Starobin, and conductors including James DePreist, George Hanson, David Loebel, Michael Morgan, Eiji Oue, Richard Pittman, Lawrence Leighton Smith, Carl Topilow, David Wiley, Samuel Wong, Kirk Trevor and David Zinman.  His music is published by Pro Nova Music, Dorn, and Thompson Edition and is recorded on the Centaur, Innova, Crystal, Klavier, Gia, First Edition and Indiana University labels.

            Recent honors include the 2005 Utah Arts Festival Commission (Utah Symphony), the 2004 William Revelli Memorial Prize from the National Band Association, the 2003 Commission from the Metropolitan Wind Symphony, the 2001 Walter Beeler Memorial Prize, the 2000 Wayne Peterson Prize, and a grant from the Aaron Copland Fund for Music for the Voices of Change recording of the first all-Dzubay CD (innova 588).  Dzubay has also received awards from the NEA (1992-1993), BMI (1987, 1988), ASCAP (1988, 1989, 1990), the American Music Center, Composers, Inc., Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, Indiana State University, Indiana University, the Tanglewood Music Center, and the Cincinnati Symphony.

            David Dzubay is currently Professor of Music at the Indiana University School of Music in Bloomington, where he teaches composition and is Director and Conductor of the IU New Music Ensemble.  He was previously on the faculty of the University of North Texas in Denton. Dzubay has conducted at the Tanglewood, Aspen, and June in Buffalo festivals. He has also conducted the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, the Greater Dallas Youth Symphony Orchestra, Music from China, Voices of Change, an ensemble from the Minnesota Orchestra, the Kentuckiana Brass and Percussion Ensemble and strings from the Louisville Orchestra at the Maple Mount Music Festival. From 1995 to 1998 he served as Composer-Consultant to the Minnesota Orchestra, helping direct their “Perfect-Pitch” reading sessions.

            Internationally known conductor and teacher Kirk Trevor is a regular guest conductor in the world’s concert halls.  Music Director of the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra from 1985 until 2003, the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra since 1988, and the Missouri Symphony since 2000 he has forged a strong musical partnership with three of America’s leading regional orchestras. 

            Born and educated in England, Trevor trained at London’s Guildhall School of Music where he graduated cum laude in cello performance and conducting.  He was a conducting student of the late Sir Adrian Boult and Vilem Tausky.  He went on to pursue cello studies in France with Paul Tortelier under a British Council Scholarship and came to the U.S. on a Fulbright Exchange Grant.  It was in the U.S. that his conducting skills led him in 1982 to the Exxon Arts Endowment Conductor position with the Dallas Symphony.

            In 1990 he was recognized as one of America’s outstanding young conductors, winning the American Symphony Orchestra League’s Leonard Bernstein Conducting Competition that led to performances with the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center.

            He was from 1995 to 1999 Chief Conductor of the Martinu Philharmonic Orchestra in the Czech Republic, and in 2000 Trevor forged a new relationship with the famed Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra in Bratislava.  With the SRSO he began a new series of recordings of American music for a consortium of independent record companies. To date, he has made thirty-eight albums of new American music.  In 2003 he was appointed Principal Guest Conductor of the orchestra and took them on a three week tour of Japan as well as many other concerts throughout Europe.   He has recently recorded symphonies by Dvorak and Mahler with them as well as recording movie scores for Hollywood.

            As a guest conductor, Trevor has appeared on the podiums of more than forty orchestras worldwide including the London Symphony Orchestra, and orchestras in Hong Kong, Canada, Spain, Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico and throughout the US.


            Tasha Dzubay began playing the clarinet at age ten in Davidson, North Carolina and three years later began studies with Robert Listokin at the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, where she completed her high school education. Ms. Dzubay earned her BM and MM in clarinet performance at Indiana University in the studios of James Campbell and Eli Eban, and has also studied with Alfred Prinz and Howard Klug.

            Ms. Dzubay is especially active as a performer of contemporary music, having performed numerous premieres of both solo clarinet and chamber music. She has performed extensively with the I.U. New Music Ensemble, Midwest Contemporary Consort and MOSAIC (piano, clarinet quartet), and at the June in Buffalo, Banff, and Scotia Festivals. She has recorded with Gregory Barrett (Alba Records), Jason Haney (SCI Records), the I.U. New Music Ensemble (Indiana University), Hal Leonard Productions and CBC Radio. Ms. Dzubay performs as a freelance artist and orchestral musician, maintaining a private studio in Bloomington, where she is currently pursuing her Doctorate.

Snake Alley (1989, rev. 1998)

            Instrumentation: 3*3*3*3*/4331/timp.4perc.hp.pno(cel)/strings

            During the 1988 tour of Korea, Taiwan, and Japan with the National Repertory Orchestra, some of us ventured into a bizarre market in Taipei called Snake Alley. It is not a place for the lighthearted but rather for the adventuresome soul interested in observing part of a culture very different from one’s own. As the title suggests, the main attractions are the many snake vendors, who have a variety of cooked, pickled and live snakes for sale. The most amazing ritual we observed began with a patron carefully selecting a live snake from a cage. The vendor would then take it out of the cage, playfully display it to the crowd, kill it with a quick tap of a hammer to the head, drain its blood into a glass, and hang the carcass from a string with the other chosen snakes of the night. Yes, then the patron would actually drink the snakes’ blood. I heard two reasons for them doing this: one was for medicinal purposes; the other was to increase their libido before they visited the nearby brothels. Among the other things we observed were turtle vendors (I’ll leave it to your imagination), a man with a playful orangutan entertaining children, many places to eat (if you had an appetite), weightlifting, gambling, priests asking for money, and any number of items to buy, such as ornate wall hangings and fans, imitation watches, and various unusual foodstuffs.

            As I wrote Snake Alley, I thought of it as sort of an “American in Taipei.” In a broad sense, the piece is a programmatic work, but I invite the listener to make his or her own associations between the music and specific images. My general thoughts on the piece are as follows (and are not totally foreign to my own experience there). It begins with a tourist taking a taxi ride from his hotel to Snake Alley. With the driving customs in Taiwan, this is thirty minutes not soon to be forgotten. The tourist simply has to abandon himself to the trust that the obviously confident driver knows what he is doing though it seems that sleeping in a hospital that night is a strong possibility. Not to worry. The tourist makes it to Snake Alley, but then just stands there in a daze for a while taking in all the colorful lights and people, not to mention recovering from the taxi ride. Slowly, he begins to wander around, still not comfortable with his surroundings, things seeming to sporadically jump out at him from all sides. Eventually, the tourist relaxes and begins to make his way through the alley observing the snake vendors and such. From this relatively calm state, when the strings are playing pizzicato chords and the woodwinds have rather slithery, snake-like lines, the tourist becomes increasingly anxious about where he is and what he is seeing. The brass and percussion are featured in an exciting buildup and the tourist is quickly trying to get out of the place when he suddenly ends up right in the middle of all the brothels and the orchestra breaks into stripper music. He hurries away from the brothels and is quite surreally confronted by a priest and some children loudly singing a Taiwanese folksong. The overwhelmed tourist quickly finds a taxi and begins the equally exciting ride home. His mind becomes flooded in a nightmarish collage of all the images he has just taken in, but he slowly begins to relax as he returns to the safety and familiarity of his hotel room, falling asleep to the memory of the folksong he heard earlier. It seems that our tourist is about to have a restful night after all. (?)

            Commissioned by and dedicated to Carl Topilow and the National Repertory Orchestra. Supported in part by the Margaret Fairbank Jory Copying Assistance Program of the American Music Center.

Siren Song (1987, rev. 1997)

            Instrumentation: 3*3*3*3*/4331/timp.3perc.hp.cel.pno/strings

            siren song n : an alluring utterance or appeal; esp : one that is seductive or deceptive. (Webster)

Although not strictly a programmatic work, Siren Song generally follows the course of mariners lured to destruction by the enticing sounds of beautifully haunting Sirens.

            The work is divided into three parts, the first featuring ‘magical’ sounds: sparkling filigree, sustained tones with changing color, distant bell tolls, and the shimmering, high-pitched hum of musical glasses. After building to a climax and dying away, a ‘mysterious’ section emerges, centered on a gradually expanding ascending figure, which is decorated by a collage of percussion and abrupt exchanges between muted brass and strings. The double basses sustain an eerie pedal throughout. A fanfare by the horns signals the beginning of the ‘ominous’ third and final part, built around a haunting melody first stated by oboe and bassoon (with frantic accompaniment), and eventually by the entire orchestra. An explosive climax follows, reaching a decisive conclusion before a return to things as they were.

            Perhaps I should admit that I did not title this short work until after it was fully composed. However, soon after choosing Siren Song as title, it seemed impossible to consider anything else. I feel I discovered the correct title for the music. This belief was supported by an audience member who asked me if the wild pizzicato strings near the end, which gradually subside, were meant to evoke air bubbles rising to the surface as the ship sinks - a comment I treasure.


Ra! (1997)

            Instrumentation: 3*3*3*3*/4331/timp.4perc.hp.cel.pno/strings

            The sun god Ra was the most important god of the ancient Egyptians. Born anew each day, Ra journeyed across the sky in a boat crewed by many other gods. During the day Ra would do battle with his chief enemy, a serpent named Apep, usually emerging victorious, though on stormy days or during an eclipse, the Egyptians believed that Apep had won and swallowed the sun.

            Ra! is a rather aggressive depiction of an imagined ritual of sun worship, perhaps celebrating the daily battles of Ra and Apep. There are four ideas presented in the movement: 1) a “skin dance” featuring the timpani and other percussion, 2) a declarative, unison melodic line, 3) a layered texture of pulses, and 4) sun bursts and shines. The movement alternates abruptly between these ideas, as if following the precise dictates of a grand ceremony.            

            Ra! Is also the first movement of sun moon stars rain, commissioned by the Minnesota Orchestra.




Shadow Dance (2002)

            Instrumentation: 3*333*/4331/timp.3perc.hp.pno/strings

            “All things... are aggregates of atoms that dance and by their movements produce sounds. When the rhythm of the dance changes, the sound it produces also changes... Each atom perpetually sings its song, and the sound, at every moment, creates dense and subtle forms .”(1)

            Perotin, a choirmaster at the cathedral of Notre Dame, composed the first known works of music written in four parts at the end of the twelfth century. His Viderunt Omnes, circa 1199, is an organum based on a Gregorian chant sung at both Christmas and New Years. Perotin’s organum can be thought of as a lengthened shadow of the original chant. That is, individual notes of the chant are sustained in the bottom part for long periods of time, during which the three upper parts have active melodic sequences, often with a rather dance-like lilt. The upper parts playfully shadow each other with imitative melodic lines in the same register, constantly crossing back and forth. Contrasting with the sustained-note sections are more active discant sections, called clausulae, where the bottom part is also rhythmically active.

            Shadow Dance, then, is a further shadowing of the chant, taking Viderunt Omnes as a base, or cantus firmus, and adding newly composed music above, below, and in between phrases of the Perotin, which is most evident during the first half of the composition. At the midpoint, “the rhythm of the dance changes” and the Perotin recedes, except for momentary glimpses back in time. Like the age in which we live, the character of this dance is unstable: by turns ominous, peaceful, celebratory, reflective, frantic, joyful, raucous, anxious, hopeful.

            (1) Alexandra David-Neel, Tibetan Journey, London, 1936.


American Midlife: Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra (2004)

Instrumentation: solo clarinet, 3*3*2*3*/4331/timp.4perc.hp.pno/strings

            This concerto was composed with the support of a grant from the Indiana University Arts and Humanities Initiative.

            Though ours is a relatively young country, just over 200 years old, one can easily imagine witnessing current signs of an American midlife crisis. With a populace so divided about everything from social and economic issues to national security, I wonder where we are headed. It seems we are at a crossroads, making critical decisions about the future of our society . We have enough history to provoke thoughtful reflection on past decisions, current states of affairs and future possibilities. I hope we will make "good choices" in the coming years.

            From a more personal standpoint, I wrote this music during the year I turned forty, while trying to save a failing marriage. I don't THINK I am having a classic midlife crisis - no new sports car anyway - but I certainly have experienced a personal crisis at midlife that has led me to examine my own past, present and future. I believe most artists' work is at least subconsciously affected by both society at large and their own individual experience and this piece is certainly no exception.

            In American Midlife, the first movement, "Present," reflects a variety of moods, with abrupt changes of contrasting character, tempo, dynamics, and orchestration. The slow introduction presents musical ideas used in all three movements; even within this brief slow section the music is being pulled in different directions, trying to decide which way to go. When the fast music begins, the soloist's 'perspective' is reduced to a simple minor third, as if consciously putting aside the competing ideas for the moment. From here on, through three central sections with a couple transitions, the soloist's melodic line becomes more and more elaborate and perhaps increasingly frantic as well, eventually bouncing around in all registers. At the climax of the movement, the tempo steps back, and the soloist is gradually overcome by the orchestra. The movement is rounded off by a quiet return to the minor third.

            The second movement, "Past," is largely one of contemplation, containing a great deal of rather tender music that also seems to be in search of something. Contrasting these moods are some dramatic outbursts - anger, frustration, realization? This movement again rounds off to a quiet end, leading without pause to the third movement, "Future."

            The final movement is fast, mercurial, industrious, and even optimistic. The soloist's material is more confident, using the minor third again, but now in a determined way, leading rather than reacting to the orchestra. The perfect fifth, used a bit in the first movement is featured even more prominently here, notably in a long flurry of fifths by the soloist shortly before the conclusion. Perhaps the emphasis on that 'perfect' interval reflects my hope for the future, both of the individual and society. filaments of memory spin... (1996)

Instrumentation: 3*3*3*3*/4331/timp.3perc.hp.pno/strings

Wind Ensemble: (large concert band)

            During my high school years in Portland, Oregon, I was fortunate to know three exceptional human beings, all of whom taught music at Jefferson High School, and all of whom died at young ages: Sonny King (jazz saxophone), Dee Wiggins (percussion), and Richard Thornburg (trumpet). Not only were these men superb musicians and teachers - they were absolutely three of the most gentle, unselfish, and kind people I have known. In 1996 I composed a three-movement symphony in memory of these three good friends. Conductor James DePreist provided the impetus for the Symphony as a whole, and his poem, Its luminous links, found in The Distant Siren, provides the subtitle for this, the final movement.

   filaments of memory spin... was inspired by memories of Richard Thornburg, a former second trumpet in the Oregon Symphony whose beautifully warm tone, lyrical playing, and gentle spirit were daily inspirations throughout high school. Mr. Thornburg practiced Tai Chi, and the idea of balance became important in this movement in a number of ways. For instance, most of the important events in the movement are ‘in balance,’ each having three presentations: offstage trumpet calls, ‘sighs,’ ‘swirls,’ mensural canons, a melodic lament, and a scalar, diatonic phrase. A sequence from Johann Hermann Schein’s (1586-1630) Padouana, which my High School brass quintet frequently performed, is used during the climax of the work. The offstage trumpets play a fusion of earlier material and one of Mr. Thornburg’s favorite melodies, The Last Rose of Summer, which is clearly revealed in the final, most distant call.

            Symphony No. 1 was commissioned for James DePreist and the Oregon Symphony on the occasion of its Centennial, the Louisville Orchestra, and the Oakland East Bay Symphony, and was made possible by a grant from the Meet The Composer/Reader's Digest Commissioning Program, in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund.

            — David Dzubay, March 2005


            This recording was funded by a grant from the Indiana University Arts and Humanities Initiative.

            Music published by Pro Nova Music (BMI)


Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra

Producer: Emil Niznansky

Soundengineer: Hubert Geschwandtner

Cover art: Melissa Thornburg

Layout, innova Director: Philip Blackburn


innova is supported by an endowment from the McKnight Foundation.