Quilting, co-commissioned by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, is my first stand alone work for orchestra and is loosely inspired by the American tradition of quilt making. I composed Quilting while living most of last year in Paris. During my time there, I thought a lot about what it means to compose symphonic music as a young American in the 21st century, when so many of the many masterworks which are programmed year in and out by orchestras across the country are European. I considered which artistic traditions defined the American 19th-century. I began to think of the American crafts-tradition of quilting as a foil to the high-art tradition of European orchestral composition.
As the score for my new work began to take shape, I started thinking about the manuscript itself as an object, its vertical and horizontal planes create a kind of patterned geometry of their own. Visually the way a musical score is woven together like patchwork brought to mind quilts and the great American tradition of quilting. I imagined about how conducting an orchestra can feel like stitching a piece together, or sewing together a large number of musical ideas and musicians into a coherent and transcendent whole.
Quilting was an integral part of American vernacular in the 18th and 19th centuries, the African-American quilting tradition is especially fascinating, and the quilts tell the stories of the women and communities who made them. The names of the quilt patterns themselves can have their own sense of narrative: 'jacobs ladder', 'drunkards path', 'solomon's puzzle', and (my favorite for its relevance to this piece) 'the road to California.'
- Bryce Dessner