Christopher Cerrone: The Air Suspended
Oct 27, 2019
I. From Ground to Cloud
II. Dissolving Margins
III. Stutter, like rain
Christopher Cerrone (b. 1984) had the New York premiere of his concerto for piano and strings, The Air Suspended, at 92Y on October 27, 2019, performed by Shai Wosner and ECCO (East Coast Chamber Orchestra). The Air Suspended was commissioned for Shai Wosner by the Phoenix Symphony with support from the Adele and John Gray Foundation, Albany Symphony, and 92nd Street Y, with support from Richard Replin and Elissa Stein. It is dedicated, with gratitude, to Shai Wosner.
The Air Suspended is a piano concerto inspired by changes of weather, and the enormous reserves of energy required to accomplish such a transformation. In my piece, the solo pianist is the energy source: he—in this case, the spectacular Shai Wosner—plays highly kinetic music continuously throughout the 16-minute work. The string orchestra captures his musical material, which it transforms, accretes and dissipates, like weather patterns.
The opening movement, “From Ground to Cloud,” draws its title from Ben Lerner’s long poem, Mean Free Path:
This movement from the ground to cloud
Of waves decaying slowly on
The form of the movement was inspired by a video of ground-to-cloud lightning—the kind that appears to come up from the ground—and structurally works in the form of three strikes: the low rumbling material in the piano suddenly breaks into a series of jagged and explosive gestures at the top of the piano. The second movement, “Dissolving Margins,” takes its title from Elena Ferrante’s book, My Brilliant Friend:
The thing was happening to her that
I mentioned and that she later called
dissolving margins. It was—she told me—
as if, on the night of a full moon over the
sea, the intense black mass of a storm
advanced across the sky, swallowing
every light, eroding the circumference
of the moon’s circle, and disfiguring the
shining disk, reducing it to its true nature
of rough insensate material.
The movement begins simply and starkly, with a gentle arpeggio repeated in the piano against a single sustained and muted violin, hanging in the air. But, slowly, a storm approaches. Each of the strings catches one of the piano’s notes and accretes into a tempest of chaotic pizzicato and sul ponticello bowing.
The second movement proceeds straight into the third movement, “Stutter, like rain,” again drawing its title from Ben Lerner:
...but now, in the dark, I heard
The little delays. If you would speak
Stutter, like rain
The music here is a series of glitched loops, where the strings slowly pick up the jagged, repeated gestures in the piano with rapid changes of tempo. The movement—which moves from this jagged opening material to quotes from prior movements to a fully composed cadenza, closes suddenly with one final lightning flash and a sharp cutoff of all instruments, which itself inspired the title of the concerto, a line from Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot:
Dust in the air suspended
Marks the place where a story ended.