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Breathe (2017)

Duration: 10:30′

Instrumentation: 2 pianos, narration, and sound design

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Breathe was written for pianists Izzy O’Connell and Kathleen Supové, which incorporates pre-recorded sound design and spoken narration. The concept of this piece comes from my interest of the condition known as Cystic Fibrosis, a genetic disorder commonly affecting the lungs, and other organs of the body. A good friend of mine was born with this condition, and her stories have shaped my view of my own fragile health and mortality. Born in South Africa, Alice Vogt is still surviving her first lung transplant since her operation in 2008. For myself that has a very serious case of asthma, I’m aware that my own health is a small comparison to the struggles of someone who has CF, as I am constantly mindful of what they experience on a daily basis when I take my asthma inhaler every morning. There are strong arguments in the medical community that Frédéric Chopin may have very well suffered and died from our modern diagnosis known as Cystic Fibrosis. Due to this research and revelation, the piece is constructed in many forms, as it incorporate elements of music quotation from Chopin’s various works (Nocturne Op. 9 No.1 in Bb Minor, Prelude No. 15 in Db Major, and Prelude Op. 28 No. 4 in E Minor) juxtaposed with sounds of breathing and circulation, with splices of narration from an interview of my friend talking about this disease. I was intrigued of Alice’s transition into her new lungs, and how she felt the first time her new organs felt completely fresh and new, which therefore lead me to also incorporate chord progressions from Pink Floyd’s Breathe (In the Air). The use of two pianos in this work is a multi-sided canvas of both experiences, the prognosis of this condition, and the new freedom that is given to successful lung transplant receivers. Although not all surgical procedures of lung transplants are successful, the gift of a new life from this medical perspective intrigues me on a profound spiritual level…

The interview with Alice for the spoken narration component of this work was conducted at her home in Johannesburg, South Africa on 18 January, 2017. In addition, I would sincerely like to thank Oli Lewington, Engagement Director from the Cystic Fibrosis Trust in the UK for his assistance and guidance on this project.

Breathe was made possible by a grant from the American Composers Forum with funds provided by the Jerome Foundation, and was premiered at the Yamaha Piano Salon in New York City on 26 January, 2017.