Even the Light Itself Falls
Realized with exquisite care and sensitivity by clarinetist Curt Miller, percussionist Dustin Donahue, and double-bassist Scott Worthington (operating under the ensemble et cetera name), Even the Light Itself Falls was recorded at the Conrad Prebys Music Center at the University of California, San Diego in June 2012 and is now available from Los Angeles-based Populist Records as a digital download. Worthington, the work's composer, brings impressive background experience to the project, including a stint working with Pierre Boulez and members of Ensemble Intercontemporain at the Lucerne Festival Academy and two years with the Ossia New Music board to help present two seasons of 20th-century music and premieres.
In its own understated way, Even the Light Itself Falls is a radical chamber work. Spanning almost ninety minutes, it asks that the listener attune him/herself to its glacial unfolding in a way that can't help but invoke Morton Feldman by way of reference; such recalibration is amply rewarded, however, by Worthington's piece. And when Donahue punctuates Miller's expressive, questioning phrases with bell strikes, one also is reminded of John Tavener's works, and, just as Tavener spoke of certain of his works in terms of the Ikon, there's something similarly Ikon-like about Even the Light Itself Falls. In fact, it wouldn't be pushing the comparison too far in suggesting that Worthington's piece could in certain moments be mistaken for one by Tavener, especially when it emanates a mystic beauty that Tavener would have been proud to call his own.
A key difference, however, is that, unlike Tavener works such as Ikon of Light and Mary of Egypt, Worthington's sonorous meditation isn't rooted in religious belief. Instead, the LA-based composer aspired to evoke a more generalized sense of wonder and stillness in the music, and to offer the listener a tranquil space for reflection wherein sounds ebb and flow. The three musicians demonstrate exceptional discipline in their rendering of the material, each of them patiently allowing pauses of extended duration to appear amidst their playing. Such spaces are never empty, of course, when the instruments' sounds extend into the pauses and slowly decay before the next sound appears. Throughout the piece, a kind of serene call-and-response occurs between Miller's haunting phrases, Donahue's bells and chimes, and Worthington's bowed tones. It's music, in short, that breathes with a natural grace and delicacy.
The work's title, incidentally, derives from a line in “On the Threshold,” an essay by Jean-Luc Nancy that was originally read in front of Caravaggio's The Death of the Virgin at the Louvre. In describing the scene, which depicts those present weeping over the death of Mary, Nancy writes that “even the light itself falls.” Worthington's goal was that his composition might capture a poetic quality similar to the one evoked by the painting. Certainly the evidence at hand suggests he's succeeded.