Spotlight – ONI by Ania Sundstrom

For the first time in my Spotlight series, I have the opportunity to focus on a piece written for me.

I’ve been friends with Ania Sundstrom for a few years now, and performing with her in Figmentum for the last two. When developing a program for the Music By Women Festival at the Mississippi University for Women last year, I wanted a new piece to pair with Liza Lim’s Sonorous Body. Ania came through with her excellent ONI, which I premiered at the festival and performed again on Figmentum’s June 14 concert in San Diego.

ONI (meaning “they/them” in Polish) is a solemn lament for clarinet solo. A great deal of the material is derived from the melody of the Dies Irae, distorted with a few quartertones. A simultaneously countermelody results from the undertone pair for each upper note, with the soft dynamic, slow tempo, and microtonal melodies combining for a haunting atmosphere. The interstitial material introduces some ascending flourishes and sudden outbursts of forte amidst the otherwise quiet material. The final element of the piece are a pair of extremely quiet, extremely high harmonics.

From a pedagogical perspective, this piece is an excellent starting point for developing the flexibility of voicing and endurance required for extended multiphonic passages on relatively easy to produce dyads. With the exception of the high harmonics, the range is reasonable throughout, and the piece does not require any virtuosic technique.

One of the interesting aspects of this piece is the close collaboration we’ve had in building the piece. So frequently in new music, rehearsal time is tight, and additional performances are not guaranteed, so there is a great deal of pressure for the delivered score to be in a “final” state, with little opportunity for revision. ONI has been a living score throughout, with adjustments being made right up until the premiere, more before the second performance, and yet more to come as Ania develops version 2.0 of the piece. I look forward to see what the piece transforms into over time.

In the meantime, here is my performance on June 14, 2019, in San Diego:

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