On May 9, Maestra Victoria Gau and her Takoma Ensemble will perform my piece The Fireman’s Carnival. This five-movement suite for strings, harp, and clarinet was inspired by one night in a small town in Pennsylvania. On that night, my four sisters and I were allowed to ride our bicycles to the Riverside Fireman’s Carnival, which had magically appeared the previous day. Where there had been an empty field there was now a Tilt-a Whirl, a tiny Ferris wheel, and a small midway of games. We stayed late into the night and rode home with a full moon shining through the fog. Many years later, I tried to capture this evanescent adventure in music. Though I recorded the piece in 2009, it has never been played live before now. The clarinet soloist will be Ben Redwine, a spectacular player. I can’t wait to hear what he brings to this strange creation.  

At that concert, the ensemble will also premiere a three-movement piece called Three Completely Workable Perpetual Motion Devices that I wrote especially for them. This was my attempt to write like Vivaldi and test a string section’s ability to play at terrifically bright tempos. While I am fascinated with fake machines that claim impossible results—like the perpetual motion devices of the 19th century—I hope this piece is a mechanical invention that actually works.

The concert will be held at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Silver Spring, Maryland. It is called “Barnett and the Brits” after me and the other two fellows on the program: Henry Purcell and Benjamin Britten.

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