Composed in: 1979
Instrumentation: Cello
Premiered by: Alan Black, cello
Publisher: C. Swigart Music

Program Notes

In 1979, on a plane ride home from a visit with my good friend, cellist Eugene Friesen, I started sketching ideas for a solo piece for him. A year or two earlier, I had discovered the recording Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Duke Ellington Songbook and was still in its thrall. Not only were her singing, the songs, and the arrangements beautiful, but the recording led me to an epiphany that these songs were every bit as much “art songs” as those of my beloved Schumann and Schubert.

And so, in beginning to write this piece for Eugene, I thought, “What if Ella Fitzgerald were a classical cello—not a cellist, but a cello—in the same sense that she was a voice, her body and soul the source of her beautiful and heartfelt singing?” I borrowed the basics of song form and plenty from the style of music that Ella sang, not only in songs by Billy Strayhorn (another of my idols) and Duke Ellington, but by many others writing songs around that same time. Those aspects meld with the technical requirements of a classically-trained cellist in creating this pensive and nostalgic piece.

I am grateful to Eugene for our enduring friendship and for his igniting in me a lifelong love of the cello, as well as with the spark for writing this piece. Embers was premiered by Alan Black on a UCLA Graduate Students concert in 1980.