Commissioned by the Verdehr Trio
I composed Variously Blue for the Verdehr Trio, who gave the premiere performances of the piece in 2010 in New York City and Washington, D.C. Another wonderful trio— Vasko Dukovski, Jennifer Choi, and Alexandra Joan—have recorded the piece on the 2014 album of my chamber music, Sea of Reeds (Navona Records).
In terms of the piece’s origins: When I began sketching the piece, I happened to improvise a lively, angular theme based on a 12-bar blues progression, and thought it would be a fun and interesting challenge to write a set of variations based on that progression, thinking about the many colors available for these three instruments. I have always been interested in exploring the idea that the variation form, in essence, is often used in jazz and blues; and that I might be able to explore the connections between jazz and concert music through such a set of variations. While some of the sections sound specifically “bluesy”, in general the piece uses the theme and its underlying harmonic pattern as a taking-off point for a varied range of moods and textures: playful, lyrical, mysterious, boisterous.
Premiere: February 2010: Verdehr Trio, Kosciuszko Foundation, New York, NY
March 2010: Verdehr Trio, Phillips Collection, Washington, DC
November 2014: Vasko Dukovski, Jennifer Choi, Alexandra Joan, Le Poisson Rouge, New York, NY (Album release concert for Sea of Reeds)
May 2015: Vasko Dukovski, Jennifer Choi, Alexandra Joan, Tribeca New Music, New York, NY
2015-present: Featured on PRI’s Performance Today many times
To purchase score and parts, contact Gerald Cohen: firstname.lastname@example.org
PDF version of score and parts: $20
Printed version of score and parts: $35 + postage
This track is from the album SEA OF REEDS; information on purchasing the track or the entire album is on the SEA OF REEDS page.
“Another set of variations which appears on the album is “Variously Blue,” which features a sprightly theme using the 12-bar blues progression. The piece, composed for the Verdehr Trio, combines elements of jazz with concert music while exploring the unique timbral possibilities of clarinet, violin, and piano. Cohen’s trademark lyricism shines through the expertly interwoven clarinet and violin melodies dancing above sparkling piano backdrops.”
“Variously Blue more than lives up to its name. Beginning with jazzy, arid lines where only the clarinet (Vasko Dukovski) can’t quite manage the same degree of shortness as pianist Alexandra Joan and violinist Jennifer Choi. Still, the three combine with an energy that will keep all listeners on the edge of their seats.
From there the ear is rewarded with agitated conversations and bell tolls heralding an oily clarinet slinking about the soundscape as well as an infusion of repetitive notes and snippets adding significantly to the overall allure.
Some of the variations are decidedly blue and a few “blue” notes provide still more variety…This set is ideally balanced (both performers and engineer Ryan Streber). Witness the finely rendered busyness in the Rite of Spring-echoing sections soon followed by the tonic of solemn, menacing variants: in the first of these, the piano pushes while the violin and clarinet provide needed balm. After a decidedly wild ride, roles are reversed and it’s the piano that cools off the heat.
Choi singlehandedly infuses the atmosphere with nervous tremolo before a beautiful hymn of acceptance—pushed forward by dollops of syncopation—reassures all, paving the way for the violinist’s absolutely stunning changes of register, their apparent effortlessness belieing the skill required.
One last hurrah—peppered by a series of slides where Dukovski is at his slippery best—leads to the tension-filled closing measures. It’s only appropriate that the final statement is almost entirely in unison: just as is the mindset of composer Gerald Cohen with this intrepid ensemble.”