As this work was commissioned by the wonderful Harmo Quartet in Tokyo, I wanted to sense some direct connection to them as I was writing it. From one of their CD’s, I had in my mind their fantastic playing of another piece of mine. I also had some sense of traditional Japanese culture that I have been involved with for some time (and even considered suggesting in the piece my own images of an earlier Japan—transforming, for example, the soprano saxophone into something like a shakuhachi). The work’s title, “Howling at the Moon,” is from a very dark and expressive collection of poems by Japanese poet Hagiwara Sakutaro. The title’s allusion to the lonely wolf and all of the folklore surrounding it also influenced my thought.
The result, then, is a mix of several traditions and ideas. The first movement transforms the quartet into a wailing person or animal. The second movement suggests the intense singing of African-American gospel music. The third movement conjures primal rites, and required the performers to vocalize in a way—both percussive and meaningful--that is reminiscent of taiko drummers. While on the surface these may seem disparate, on a deeper level they are very connected, and hopefully, the movements work together to form an expressive whole.
The work was commissioned by the Harmo Saxophone Quartet (Tokyo). It was awarded First Prize, Britten-on-the-Bay Composition Competition