Ribbons, commissioned by and written for Kansas City Summerfest Ensemble, is scored for a woodwind quartet, string quartet, harp and harpsichord. The instrumental groupings on a macro-level maintain the division between winds, strings and plucked instruments, evident by the physical location on stage. On a local (compositional) level, the music is imitated and mirrored by pairs of instruments of similar register: Violin 1/Flute, Violin II/Oboe, Viola/Clarinet, and Violoncello/Bassoon, found most often in thick contrapuntal textures.
woodwind quartet, string quartet, harp and harpsichord
But the most interesting aspect of the piece and the one I enjoyed working with the most was the use of scale (for all musicians, fear and loathing accompany practicing scales). Three unique scales unify the entire composition, which were formed from three common ones: whole tone (made up of all whole steps), diatonic (combination of half and whole steps) and octatonic (strict alternation between half and whole steps). Created not from bottom to top but outward from the central pitch A, I found that each of the three scales had eight resting points or nodes; chords could then be formed by sounding just these nodes, and indeed, the three chords which are found in the very first bar as three 8-note chords re-occur in the middle section (entitled Waltz), divided into six 4-note sonorities, as well as in the reflective Coda.
Finally, the title comes from Ribbons of Scales, a description by Stravinsky of his own compositional process found in the first movement of his Octet. So enamored I am of this piece that I quote two bars from the second movement as a fleeting melodic reference, in not only the Waltz but also in the extended harpsichord cadenza.
The work was premiered in Kansas City July 25 and 26th, 1993.