Life of Birds
for Flute, Clarinet, Violin, and Cello
Approximate Duration: 13'
The ambitious nature of the title and its many satellite movement headings belie the study of miniatures that is Life of Birds. Creating a web of short but dense moments from the aviary immediately stuck me as a way into the unusual ensemble, comprised of two winds and two strings.
Some movements relate a pithy narrative; others live on a more abstract level. “Moving Parts” opens the work with a flurry of activity that needs little explanation. The lazy nodding-off of “Parakeet Daydream,” illustrated by hushed delicacies low in the instruments, receives several unwelcome awakenings at key moments. “The Caged Bird Sings,” the heart of the piece, encapsulates a long-lined melody in a cage of minimalist figuration. The melody seems to escape from its confines in the central section, but it is only an fleeting illusion. A mating dance on tiptoes unfolds in “On a Wire,” where the two winds persist in singing their lovesong despite the lopsided accompaniment. Finally, a very unfair fight emerges in “Old World Flycatcher,” which is defined as “a small and agile bird that takes its insect prey on the wing.” The skittish, insectoid motives in the flute and violin are no match for the clarinet, which enters low in its register but ultimately moves higher to devour its prey — which, like the piece as a whole, is quite small.