Paths Which Diverge . . . Then Rejoin
Senderos Que se Bifurcan is a one-movement work for clarinet and piano that I and clarinetist Wagner Campos (my long-time recital partner and close friend) commissioned from award-winning American composer Charles Norman Mason in the early 2000’s. I hope that you enjoy listening to this live performance of Senderos Que se Bifurcan, recorded in the DePaul University concert hall:
I first met Dr. Mason (Chuck) during my senior year of college when he joined the faculty of Birmingham-Southern College (Chuck has since joined the faculty of the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami). After having taken a composition class with Chuck and, more importantly, heard a considerable amount of his output, I became convinced that Wagner and I needed to find a way to add a new work to the clarinet-piano repertoire.
Chuck immediately ran with the idea and, given the closely-knit nature of Wagner’s and my playing relationship, suggested that the piece be drawn from a literary source: A collection of speculative fiction by the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, entitled El Jardin de Senderos Que se Bifurcan (published May of 1940, and in English in 1961).
In Chuck’s piece, the two instruments alternate between extended passages of unison playing characterized by sharp, angular and sometimes precarious note and rhythmic patterns — symbolizing the two “characters” following a shared path through uncertain terrain.
The clarinet and piano then “bifurcate” into a new texture, marked by short, crisp and highly rhythmic interjections which create a tense conversational tone — not unlike what is heard in a menagerie.
The musical impetus then abruptly stops and the listener is introduced to a new landscape — expansive, tranquil and lush. The warm vocal quality of the clarinet sings a beautiful song amidst the backdrop of resonant chords and birdsong-like percussive effects in the piano.
This reverie is interrupted by a return to the energized unison writing of the opening — moving into an increasingly agitated conversation between the two instruments which continues unabated to the end.
A vurtuosic tour-de-force, I’m ever so grateful to Chuck Mason for creating this compelling, and very welcome, addition to the clarinet-piano repertoire. Musicians owe it to themselves to work with composers as frequently as possible. It keeps our art form alive and continues to hold up an artistic mirror to all aspects of the human condition.