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string quartet (2023)

performed by Tesla Quartet

**This work is under exclusivity through May 2025.**


Duration: 11 minutes
Premiere: May 7, 2023
Tesla Quartet at The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, College Park, MD.
Commissioned by: Tesla Quartet with ImmerSphere and The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center

program note

The fast-disappearing Hoopers Island in south Dorchester County, Maryland, is an inspirational stepping stone for Watershed. Once a bustling fishery (the original home of Phillips Seafood), the island and surrounding areas are being overtaken by the water that once sustained them. Watershed addresses the experience of climate change in the Chesapeake Bay region.

Each of the three movements of Watershed explores a different aspect of Hoopers Island. The first movement, “Causeway,” is about the long, narrow road that connects the island to the mainland. The water levels have risen so close to the road that waves will splash onto the roadway even on good weather days. “Ceremony,” the second movement, refers to the personal and communal rituals and rhythms of life lost because of the sea level rise on the island—the music is bittersweet, with glimmers of hopefulness. The third movement, “Ghost Pines,” references the pine trees clustered around the island that the increasing saltwater levels have damaged. This movement is a sonic imagining of that process; saltwater sucking the nutrients from the trees, losing their needles, bark, and branches, and turning white.

Like the physical landscape, the musical world of Watershed is a combination of poignant and beautiful. Musical ideas take the form of overlapping gestures like waves—that rise and reach a crest, then pull away—and of material that begins complete and is slowly stripped out to a single line. Early in the compositional process, inspiration came from sea chanteys sung by Black fishermen on the Chesapeake and from field recordings of wind and water I recorded on Hoopers Island.

Having grown up and spent a large portion of my life In Maryland, I care deeply about the impact of climate change on the Chesapeake Bay region. The rising waters wash away the landscape and the hopes, dreams, communities, and histories of those who have lived and worked on the Chesapeake. I hope Watershed will play a role in alerting people to the situation’s urgency and inspire behavioral and policy changes to offset the effects of global warming.