I want to unfold

Year composed: 2016

Instrumentation: sop/alt/ten/bari saxes, fixed media (pre-recorded sound on CD)

Duration (approx.): 11′ or 13′ (see notes)


Commissioned by and dedicated to the Mana Quartet.

Three versions are available. One with a fixed media part, one stand-alone acoustic version for quartet, and one stand-alone version for sax trio. Contact the composer for performance materials.



To stare in the face of expectation, only to have it stare back at you as an empty, hollow face, surrounded by lush ashen-blond hair, supported by hands bound by ragged tethers, is quite striking. This is what it’s like to stare into Podpomogov’s idea of expectation, in a painting by the same name. Podpomogov, an early 20th century Armenian painter, was born nine years after the genocide carried out by the Ottoman Empire. Each of his works, as he states, “…are first of all dedicated to the rebirth of Armenian people from the death of the Genocide…” It is an optimistic statement, given his portrayal of expectation. Podpomogov’s painting stuck with me for quite a while in a way that is hard for me to articulate. Beauty (an ideal?) bound by it’s own (im)mobility becomes empty in the face of expectation, of change. Podpomogov strongly identified with the Armenian half of his heritage, a heritage marked by the decimation of a nation’s worth of lineages. Can a people destroyed by war find a way to recover, to heal, to forgive?

Rilke’s haunting I am much to alone in this world, yet not alone, from The Book of Hours, to me, suggests a yearning to understand one’s self and the other. The translation used here doesn’t seem to be the standard, yet it really resonated in a way I’m not entirely sure I can describe (again, my deficiency comes into play). So much about it suggests (to me) a struggle to articulate, to feel a sense of not only communication, but communion. It’s the empty space in Podpomogov’s ashen-haired face.


I want to unfold explores contextual variations. The tape part features a recitation of a poem by Rilke against a mercurially shifting background of many different highly modified samples. The poem is central during development of the music played by the saxophones.

The music – a pulsing, gentle choral that eventually unfurls into a wild frenzy of wide leaps and extreme voice leading eventually dissolves into the backdrop of the tape (a compendium of static, pulses, and number station broadcasts) before re-emerging in the form of solos for each sax (themselves each variations of the different internal and external lines previously heard together). As the darkness of the tape’s dream-like episode lightens, synthetic strings emerge to lift the ensemble from a static pool of harmony – accompanied by Rilke – into declarative, resolvant gestures, that eventually dissolve into a sparse variant of the opening choral.

I want to unfold was premiered on November 12th, 2016 at the New Festival of American Music in Sacramento, CA.

Copyright © Jay Derderian (ASCAP), 2017. All Rights Reserved.


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