Music Monday: Rimkus: MacLeod Road

Right, so. This is another one of those times when I don’t have a lot to say about either the composer or the genesis of the work I’m featuring. This time, tho, it’s not because the details weren’t recorded and slipped away into the maw of time, it’s because she’s just starting out, and the work in question received it’s première this past November. Sarah Rimkus was born in 1990 in Washington DC, and moved to Bainbridge Island, Washington state in 1998. Somewhere along the way she got interested in music, and earned a Bachelor’s in music composition from the University of Southern California in 2013. From there, she went on to study vocal music at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, where she is currently pursuing a PhD. (For further details, I’m just going to link directly to the bio page of her website, since that’s the only biographical information I’ve been able to find on her, and it seems silly to rehash it all here.)

I have likewise been unsuccessful in locating much information on the piece itself. MacLeod Road was written in 2015 for the SPECTRUM new music ensemble, and it’s scored for a mixed ensemble of flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano, and percussion, and that’s really all I know. Fortunately, if there is any deeper meaning to the title, knowing it isn’t necessary to appreciate the piece on its musical merits.

Misty filaments of sound [SoundCloud] fill the air after the bright opening percussive burst, like a pastoral sunrise that hasn’t quite shaken off the dew. These gradually extend outwards, blurring and shifting, but maintaining the air of quiet idleness. Gradually, almost accidentally, the music warms and builds in energy and depth, with wispy melodic fragments — possibly quoting folk songs, or appearing to at least — emerging and organically gaining in strength and definition. 

Keeping on in a similar vein, the music eventually starts to roll forward, as if shaking off the morning stupor and going for something of a brisk walk. Percussive noises made by slapping the wood of the cello bow against its strings temporarily impede this progress, but the clarinet soon launches a considerably more vigorous section, and the ensemble soon joins in a playful dance, tho as with the dovetailing melodies from the opening, the instruments seem to be free to go their own way, like butterflies chasing each other over and around blades of grass. Eventually, this comes to a head and the music comes to an abrupt halt, paving the way for distant low bell tones in the bottom reaches of the piano.

Uncertain fragments percolate above this, some trying to recapture the energy of the dance while others seem intent on floating back into the dewy stasis of the opening. Slowly but surely, the stasis wins out, and the piece comes to rest in a place of languid, satisfied repose.