Suspend (2014)

scored for piano and orchestra (2222.22.3perc.harp.strings)

duration 20 minutes
Suspend is a 20-minute fantasy for piano and orchestra. It began, at the behest of Emanuel Ax, as an exploration of two melodic fragments, F-A-E (frei aber einsam, free but lonely) and F-A-F (frei aber froh, free but happy), that were significant to Johannes Brahms. From there it developed into an extended rumination on the ideas of freedom and solitude, a dream-like journey inspired by the creative, conflicted, lonely spirit of Brahms and the ever-present tensions in his (and my) life and music between spontaneity and control, sentiment and structure, indulgence and restraint.

Like many of its forebears in the long tradition of keyboard fantasies, Suspend is intended to sound as if it is being made up on the spot, a single meandering but unbroken thread of thought spun out by the pianist from beginning to end. The piece follows a simple scenario: the pianist—perhaps a solitary, Brahms-like figure—sits down at the keyboard and slowly begins to improvise. At first the sounds exist only in the pianist’s own mind, but little by little they become real to the rest of us. The pianist very gradually imagines an orchestra into existence, and over the course of many minutes that imaginary orchestra assumes its own voice and identity, transforming from a shadow, a resonance, an echo of the piano into a powerful and distinct musical entity that threatens, at the work’s climax, to swallow up the pianist. The piece ends with a coda in which the pianist freely meditates on the F-A-F motive and the orchestra, player by player, is released into a world of free, uncoordinated playing.

Suspend was premiered by Emanuel Ax, Gustavo Dudamel, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic on May 1 and 3, 2014, at Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles, California.