Premiered and Performed by Jena Nahnsen, Clarinetist
for solo Bb Clarinet
Program notes written by Jena Nahnsen, Clarinetist:
From the time I met with Tony at the end of Bay View Festival, I knew this commission
was something that would change my life. I’m still not quite sure what possessed me to email
him after reading his blog post about his long term awareness project with mental health and
composition. The only thing I know is I’m glad I did. The thing is, at that time I’d accepted my
past with anorexia, but hadn’t fully embraced it yet. I text Emily (my best friend) about this
project and that I was scared to death. Even after meeting with Tony I was still thinking “What
am I doing? I just told someone I met 2 weeks ago more about myself than a majority of people
know about me.”
A couple years passed before I even got the piece, but in that time I had a heartfelt
conversation with my mom about what it was like for her to have a daughter go through this. Her
answer was raw and kind of painful to hear. Obviously, at the time when I was at my worst I
didn’t really focus on what my mom was thinking. Hearing her say in words how helpless she
felt, how she would have done anything to take away this inexplainable mental illness. That right
there gave me a glimpse into a parent’s love for their child. During those few years I also made
it my goal to become more vulnerable in my playing.
I received the piece in July. When I listened to the midi (with some imagination) I was
moved to tears. Measure 207 where the element of hope finally comes into the piece is such a
magical moment. Tony nailed it 110%. The use of multiphonics through the piece is so tasteful.
The articulation, although difficult, captures the exact amount of anxt and relentlessness mental
illnesses have. The “amen” like chords at the end really encapsulate the feeling of “I’ve got this
under control, but this will always be apart of me”.
As I practiced the piece more and more I was amazed by how I could relate to this piece.
It really amazed me how drawn in emotionally I was at a single composition. (Sometimes the
emotions were frustrations with difficult articulations haha). I was just afraid I was going to hold
back when I played it for someone in this past fear of not wanting people to know about my
mental illness. Which is kind of funny considering quite a few people know about it at this point.
Tony was the first person I played it for and it was so exciting to be able to play the piece he
wrote for him! I then played it for Jacob and it moved him to tears. I asked him why and all he
could say was “I’m so proud of you”. Because Jacob out of anyone else knows my past, present
and future relationship with this mental illness.
When I found out the premiere had to be online due to COVID- 19 concerns I cried for
way too long. I was/ am so excited to premiere this piece to an audience that a cyber
performance would never give this piece in particular the proper premiere it deserved. Though,
preparing this piece during a pandemic almost gave it a totally new meaning to me while still
maintaining the original intentions of the piece. The title “Where There is Darkness, Light” made
me start thinking of all the ways I could find “light” in this currently “dark” situation. Suddenly the
two note beginning theme rejected the Corona Virus emerging, the chaos in the middle reflected
the chaos that the country is currently in, the “hopeful” section at the end reflects the hope for
the end of this virus and the silver linings that came with being quarantined.
Monday April 6th at 1:30 “Where There is Darkness, Light” was performed for a cyber
audience. The reception of the piece was amazing. One comment that stuck out to me from was
Dr. Jonathan Sturm saying “Your collaboration with Tony has brought a very compelling,
effective, and beautiful piece into the world!” For me, it was a bit bittersweet. It was amazing
how many people this could reach being it was online. Last I checked the video had almost 700
views! I have a feeling once I play it for a “real audience” it will feel like a premiere performance
all over again.
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