Many instruments can express both exuberant joy and dark pathos, but the clarinet has the ability to express both almost at once, moving instantly with liquid grace from one to the other. It seems that is why it is such a perfect choice for Eastern European folk traditions, including well known Klezmer music: it implores, not to forget about or deny life’s difficulty, but to sing and dance joyously and defiantly in its midst.
It is this sense of the clarinet that informed the composition of this piece. On the surface, each movement is rather different in nature, but the tenacious reinterpretation of the same material in each is intended to reinforce the overlaying of contrasting emotions. The first is exuberant yet uncertain, the second introspective yet purposeful, the third a Bulgarian romp amidst an ominous reality.
"Liquid Ebony" was commissioned by Larry Combs, principal clarinetist with the Chicago Symphony, and premiered with pianist Gail Niwa at the 2003 Clarinet Fest in Salt Lake City, Utah. There is also now a version with wind ensemble, as well as one with orchestra.