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The Way of Ideas

flute, clarinet, violin, cello (2007)

Live recording—2.03.10
Kelli Kathman, flute; Alicia Lee, clarinet; Yuki Numata, violin; Joshua Roman, cello
Contemporary Museum Mobtown Modern concert series, Baltimore, MD.


Duration: 7 minutes
Commissioned by: The Seattle Chamber Players with support from The American Music Center Composer Assistance Program
Premiere: January 25, 2008
Icebreaker IV Festival, On The Boards, Seattle, Washington


Score + parts — $45

Score + parts — $60

Digital performance materials will be emailed within 1-3 business days.
Print versions will be sent via USPS within 14 business days.

program note

The Way of Ideas was commissioned by The Seattle Chamber Players for their 2008 Icebreaker IV Festival, curated by Alex Ross. The title is inspired by a quote from Philip Pullman’s book, The Golden Compass:

“The idea hovered and shimmered delicately, like a soap bubble, and she dared not even look at it directly in case it burst. But she was familiar with the way of ideas, and she let it shimmer, looking away, thinking about something else…”

For me, this immediately leaped off the page as a refreshingly clear description of how thoughts become reality. The ideas we do not become overly attached to, or grasp at, are the ones that manifest in the world. I am fascinated by the notion that wishes, ideas, and questions must be held lightly, that they cannot be forced in order for us to discover their answers.

In this composition I wanted to fold this concept into a musical landscape that evokes the everyday machinations of the human mind—an environment in which chattering thoughts suddenly fly away or are pulled slowly apart, return again, and change and develop into new forms which travel along different pathways. Musical textures expand and contract, and the focus twists and turns to reveal threads of intertwined rhythms and gestures that encompass a continually transforming organism.


You want to hear much more of Alexandra Gardner, whose The Way of Ideas was next up. She talks about creating dramatic musical landscapes, and that she did, but in a curious and challenging way. Although her piece was deftly shaped, her concern for lack of control and her wish to let the music arise from delicious temptation and random thoughts was wonderfully exhibited. Not one but several ribbons rolled out from a sound block only to begin another. Without the pressure of willing, the music became evanescent.

Bershire Fine Arts

Seattle Chamber Players goes from strength to strength with its annual festival of contemporary music, now in its fourth year and attracting larger audiences every time. At the first of three concerts in Icebreaker IV: The American Future, organized by Alex Ross, music critic of The New Yorker, five of the program’s works were commissioned by or for the ensemble, the core members of which are Paul Taub, flute; Laura DeLuca, clarinet; David Sabee, cello (in this program, Joshua Roman substituted); and Mikhail Shmidt, violin. Alexandra Gardner’s well-structured The Way of Ideas was light and exciting.

Seattle Post Intelligencer

A stunning weekend festival by Seattle Chamber Players demonstrates the great vitality of contemporary classical music. In Alexandra Gardner’s The Way of Ideas, you sensed an undercurrent of melancholy tempering the cheerful surface, all drawn together organically.


Fascinating as the Seattle Chamber Players’ three previous ‘Icebreaker’ festivals have been, it’s surprising that they and factotum Elena Dubinets were able to top themselves again. Alexandra Gardner’s The Way of Ideas made a good concert opener Friday: brightly percolating and attractively sec, to use wine terminology.

Seattle Weekly

Taken from a line in Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass about how thoughts become reality, VERGE’s balanced reading of The Way of Ideas let us hear how the flute’s motif would soon become the clarinet’s. The interplay between flautist David Whiteside and clarinetist Rob Patterson was so jovial and so transparent, following Gardner’s hocketing logic was a delight indeed.

The Baltimore Sun

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