Smoke and Mirrors


  • Piano Solo
  • Duration: 18-22 min.



Gul Khwaja Uween, Northern Pakistan

"...gorgeous and haunting. The harmonies and rhythms are continually surprising and engaging. And the sense of line running from beginning to end is captivating."
          - John Luther Adams

The piano is my instrument and as such I was long attracted to and repelled from writing a solo piece for it. The temptation to write for my own fingers or to notate an improvisation was too great and the burden of the great works that I've played since childhood was too heavy. Yet, I wanted to write a work that I would enjoy playing and that was a respite from the loud, extremely dissonant works I had been writing for ensembles. Smoke and Mirrors is my nocturne.

My composition begins with a very simple musical concept. Twelve chords form an abstract harmonic progression. These chords are expanded or contracted to fill the registral space of the piano in two concurrent, though differently paced, cycles. The resultant sound mass is shaped and stretched. There are no melodies in Smoke and Mirrors, no progressions; only sound that moves, expands, contracts, lingers. The end of the piece is no different from the beginning.

In writing the work I was reminded of a trek I recently made in the high Karakoram mountains of Pakistan along the ancient Silk Route to Mintaka pass. Near the end of my trek, I had hoped to camp at a spot known as Gul Khwaja Uween but on approaching it I saw that a scree slope had collapsed and the valley was all but closed off. The next morning our guide tramped out a path on the slope and we clambered over to enter the sealed valley. Inside, the mountains rose, the glacier stood, the river coursed. In listening to Smoke and Mirrors the listener is similarly placed within an environment that moves around them.

Smoke and Mirrors is dedicated to pianist Barbara Lieurance.


Goethe Institut, New York
May 27, 2006
Barbara Lieurance, piano

Steinert Hall, Boston
November 17, 2007
Barbara Lieurance, piano

Rose Studio, New York
December 2, 2007
Kathleen Tagg, piano

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