The title of this two-movement string sextet alludes to images from two of my
favorite poems, Walt Whitman's "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry" and Hart Crane's
The Bridge. The passages from which the images come describe two different
crossings of the East River from Brooklyn to Manhattan, one via the ferry and
the other via the famous bridge that replaced it. In each case the act of crossing is imaginative as well as physical; it symbolizes the blending of a multitude of sights and sounds into a coherent act of perception--a process that has increasingly come to interest me as a composer. In each case, too, the figure that embodies this possibility of this synthesis is a seagull on the wing: hence my title.
Crane's and Whitman's gulls embody two complementary versions of the flight of sensory fullness: for Crane the tracing of a curve in the air that echoes the curvature of the bridge and the curve of the earth, the other a hovering in place that gathers the lines of perception to itself. The first takes place at sunrise, the second at sunset.
The two movements of Wingspan (composed, respectively, in 2017 and 2010/17),evoke these crossings in the order of occurrence rather than of chronology: Crane precedes Whitman. The first movement (7 minutes), lively in tempo after a slow introduction, traces the way in which emergent events exceed the premises from which they arise. The slow second movement (14 minutes), essentially a set of variations, traces the way in which the implications of a single perception may be unraveled. It consists of eight 21-measure segments, to be played without pause, followed by an extended
coda. Each segment (including the coda) is based on a single triad; the coda lifts passages from the preceding segments, transforms them, and weaves them into a single continuous utterance. Here are the passages invoked by the titles of the individual movements ("Dip and Pivot," "Floating High"):
How many dawns, chill from his rippling rest
The seagull’s wings shall dip and pivot him,
Shedding white rings of tumult, building high
Over the chained bay waters Liberty—
Crane, "To Brooklyn Bridge"
I too many and many a time cross’d the river of old,
Watched the Twelfth-month sea-gulls, saw them high in the air floating
with motionless wings, oscillating their bodies,
Saw how the glistening yellow lit up parts of their bodies and left the rest
in strong shadow,
Saw the slow-wheeling circles and the gradual edging toward the south.
Whitman, "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry"