Elon Wind Ensemble to present world premiere performance of newly commissioned work – Nov. 16

The Elon University Wind Ensemble "Phoenix Winds" will present the world preimere performance of Kinetic Dance, for two scrap metal birds (inspired by the art installation "Phoenix" from Chinese artist Xu Bing), a newly comissioned work from award winning composer David Clay Mettens at their fall concert this Sunday, November 16 at 7:30pm in McCrary Theater (free admission). 

The “Phoenix Winds” Wind Ensemble, under the direction of Dr. Adam Kehl, will present its fall concert on Sunday, November 16 at 7:30pm in McCrary Theater on the campus of Elon University (admission is free and open to the public). The program will display the musical range of the wind ensemble and its repertoire, including the world premiere performance of award winning composer David Clay Metten’s new work Kinetic Dance, for two scrap metal birds, with the composer in attendance. The piece was commissioned by the Elon University Band Department. The work was inspired by the art installation “Phoenix” by Chinese artist Xu Bing currently on display at St. John the Divine Cathedral in New York City (see below for full program note).  The six-minute work displays Metten’s mastery of timbre and color, presenting an aural landscape suggesting cathedral bells, organ sounds and stained glass, juxtaposed with jagged, angular metallic sounds, before working itself into a frenetic dance based on the sixth movement of Oliver Messiaen’s landmark piece, Quartet for the End of Time. The program also includes traditional repertoire for winds from composers Percy Grainger, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Vincent Persichetti, a new Latin/techno inspired electro-acoustic work (the band performs along with a pre-recorded electronics track) from Seattle based composer Alex Shapiro, and Daniel Bukvich’s emotionally moving Symphony No. 1 “In Memoriam Dresden – 1945.”  The diverse program provides the listener with the familiar and the challenging, the traditional and the new, all in one concert.  


Kinetic Dance, for two scrap metal birds (2014)

David Clay Mettens

The inspiration for this piece came from my first visit to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City in March of 2014. I walked into the church and was amazed to find two enormous metal birds suspended in the nave. They were an installation called “Phoenix” by the Chinese artist Xu Bing. The hundred-foot-long birds were assembled from scraps and rubble scavenged from construction sites in Beijing. “Phoenix” was first displayed in Beijing and Shanghai in 2010 and traveled to the United Stated in 2012.

I was particularly struck by the contrast between the regularity and heaviness of the church’s pillars and the floating birds. Despite their immense combined weight of twelve tons, the two birds managed to “fly.” My Kinetic Dance is a response to this juxtaposition and an exploration of the unique sound world that the installation suggested: industrial metallic clinking enters into dialogue with the tolling of bells and organ-like timbres. Rhythmic pulsation and melodic strands gradually emerge, and the weight of the bells and punctuation begins to dissolve as forward momentum accumulates. After a final moment of heaviness, the weight and timbre of the opening bells and clanging metal is completely transformed. Quiet bells ring out, like tiny points of light suspended in darkness, and the energy of the piece gathers into an ecstatic dance.

The title is a reference to the sixth movement from Olivier Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la fin du temps: “Danse de la fureur, pour les sept trompettes” (“Dance of fury, for the seven trumpets”). The rhythm from the opening two bars of this movement is the basis for the repeating rhythmic pattern in the final third of my piece. Like the installation at the Cathedral, Messiaen’s music is a unique synthesis of Western religion and Eastern mythology. Kinetic Dance, for two scrap metal birds was commissioned by Adam Kehl and the Elon University Wind Ensemble (once the Elon “Fighting Christians and now the Elon “Phoenix”).                        (Program note by David Clay Mettens)