Curtis K. Hughes, Two-Faced (2003)

The title of “Two-Faced,” for alto saxophone and percussion, can be taken in any number of different ways, including many that may not have been foreseen by the composer! As a description of a general behavior pattern, it might well be applied to many of today’s politicians, whose hypocrisy seems to know no boundaries. However, on a more personal level, I also find the term “Two-Faced” to be sometimes an apt description of the behavior of a composer who has something urgent, and not always particularly “nice,” to say in music, but must nevertheless strive to be diplomatic and accommodating when attempting to get his or her music performed. Musically, this piece contains some analogies to the composer’s dilemma in that the saxophone repeatedly attempts to find a familiar and friendly way to say what it has to say, but the material keeps turning unexpectedly thorny and jagged, in repeated diplomatic failures.

The rhythmic structure of the piece, articulated most clearly in the percussion, is cyclical, but with the strange feature that each cycle is almost always shorter than the previous one. Thus, after a brief introduction, we first hear an extended cycle that is more than a minute long, but by the end of the composition, many shorter cycles later, rapid-fire “cycles” of a sixteenth-note or less in length are exchanged between the saxophone and the percussion. Finally, this is suggestive of a third possible reading of the piece’s title: The compression of the musical materials results in a merging of the two instrumentalists’ roles into a single “two-faced” monster! -CH

Curtis K. Hughes is a Boston-based, freelance composer, as well as a music instructor who has taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the New England Conservatory of Music. His music has been played by the Callithumpian Consort, The Boston Modern Orchestra Project, the Firebird ensemble, the Cleveland Chamber Symphony, the Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphonies, the Oberlin Orchestra, and the Indiana University New Music Ensemble, among many others. He has received numerous awards, including the Boston Japan Society’s Toru Takemitsu Prize, awarded annually to one of the “most promising” young composers in the greater Boston area. A graduate of Oberlin College and Conservatory and of the New England Conservatory, his primary teachers have included composers Lee Hyla and Evan Ziporyn. His composition “AVOIDANCE TACTICS #1,” as performed by pianist Sarah Bob and percussionist Aaron Trant, received praise in the New York Times as a “fiery work” with “great moments of interaction,” and his orchestral piece “Gestations” was lauded by the Boston Globe as “colorfully scored,” and by New Music Connoisseur as “a most worthy offering.” Upcoming projects include a new work for the Radius Ensemble and a November 2003 CD release of recent chamber music. For more information, visit www.curtiskhughes.com.


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