When I was a kid my mom used to tell me, “Good things come to those who wait.” Well, it’s been a very long wait, but my music will finally be heard in the most famous venue of them all, Carnegie Hall. The Carpe Diem String Quartet (http://www.cdsq.org/) will perform the World Premiere of my first string quartet, “Seize the Sun: Fantasy on Icarus,” Saturday, Jan. 14.
I'm particularly excited about this because the string quartet has always been, for me, the ultimate Everest. Not the symphony or the concerto, or any of the other genres that make up the canon of Western classical music. For me, it's the string quartet. It took me a long time to get up my courage to write one of my own: it seemed like the height of hubris to attempt to add to the staggering weight of masterworks that make up the form, starting with its inventor, Haydn, and extending all the way to the present. But finally, about a year ago, I decided it was time.
"Seize the Sun: Fantasy on Icarus" is in a single movement with three large sections, totaling about 15 minutes. The piece reimagines the classic Icarus story not as a cautionary tale, but rather a celebration of the human spirit of aspiration, of reaching beyond our limitations to embrace new discoveries.
I’ve always felt that Icarus got a bad rap. In the classic telling of this tale from Greek mythology, Icarus fashions wings out of feathers and wax in order to fly to the sun. Against the warnings of his father, he flies too close and the wax melts, sending Icarus plunging back to earth. It’s a cautionary tale about hubris and the dangers of not respecting our limitations.
But for me, I see something very different in this story, something about hope and perseverance. One of the things that defines us as humans is our constant striving for new discoveries, for expanding our boundaries of knowledge and abilities. And when we fail — which we inevitably do — we pick ourselves up and try again. My first string quartet, “Seize the Sun: Fantasy on Icarus,” imagines that the Icarus tale as it’s told to us is but one chapter in a longer story — a story in which Icarus confronts his failure, tries again, and learns to fly.
Around the time I was thinking about all of this, the terrible mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando took place. While the tragedy shook all people of good faith, it was particularly devastating for my fellow brothers and sisters in the LGBT community: here was a place we thought was safe, a place of community and belonging, horribly turned into something opposite. How do we respond to such events? How should I, as an artist, respond? As I person, I will march, organize, and speak out. And as an artist, it is my role to find a reason for hope, for renewal, even in the face of the unthinkable, and use my music as a vehicle to speak to these things and, hopefully, touch my audience. Like Icarus, we must reach within ourselves for that which is good, for those things that lift us up, so that, out of the ashes of destruction, we might rise to fly again.
It's been a tough year for a lot of folks and in a lot of ways. And that's why we need art more than ever: so that we can continue to believe in possibilities, and hope. So that we can keep reaching up to the Sun.