Something for the Dark was commissioned by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra as a result of my receiving the DSO Elaine Lebenbom Award for Female Composers in 2014.
Thinking about Detroit led me to think about resilience, and what it means to endure. After a brief hint of passing doubt, Something for the Dark opens with a bold, heroic statement of hope and fortitude in the horns and trombones. I think of this music as the optimism of a very young person. Initially, I envisioned this motif journeying through a bit of challenge and adversity to arrive at an even stronger, bolder version of itself: Growth! Triumph! A happy ending! But that wasn’t what happened. Early into its search for glory, the motif finds itself humbled beyond recognition: a delicate, childlike tune in the flute, harp, and celeste arises in its stead. This new version of hope is then put through a series of challenges that roil and churn it like the sea tossing a small boat — testing it, weathering it, even taunting it with memories of its early hubristic naïveté. Eventually, the music finds its way to solid ground, and though its countenance has now darkened, its heroism a distant memory, it finds a kind of clear-eyed serenity—and, maybe, even, the kind of hope that endures.
The title of the piece comes from “For Fran,” a poem by Philip Levine, the Detroit-born-and-raised, former U.S. Poet Laureate who was best known for his poems about Detroit’s working class. The last two lines of of the poem struck me as an apt motto for his many clear-eyed reflections on endurance. In preparing the flower beds for winter, Levine’s wife becomes a symbol of the promise of renewal: “She packs the flower beds with leaves/ Rags, dampened papers, ties with twine/ The lemon tree, but winter carves/ Its features on the uprooted stem… I turn to her whose future bears/ The promise of the appalling air/ My living wife, Frances Levine, Mother of Theodore, John, and Mark/ Out of whatever we have been/ We will make something for the dark.”
Seen and Heard International
"The key was Sarah Kirkland Snider’s 2014 Something for the Dark, a mysterious and moody ten-minute opener that combined some modern, modal minimalism relatable to Adams with cinematic gestures and harmonies that threw back to Sibelius. The piece started with warmth, but there was mystery too. Snider quickly established her long game, harmonically spinning out passages, forcing a sense of longing before any phrase resolves. As the piece went on, it grew darker, the handsome surfaces becoming more crinkled and troubled, building up tension that erupted at its climax in sonorous cracks of timpani and snare drum. True to its harmonic style, it did not so much resolve as dissolve at the end, but the sense of a turning point had been made... Not only was Snider, who was in attendance, received warmly by the audience, she was given a second ovation by the portion of the crowd that spotted her heading back to her seat afterwards, an auspicious welcome to a composer making her Cleveland Orchestra debut."
"The [Cleveland Orchestra] concert began with a captivating performance of Sarah Kirkland Snider’s “Something for the Dark” — which is also something of a concerto for orchestra. Built up from ever-changing layers of color, the piece starts out with bright hues, then becomes somber. Interesting pairings of percussion instruments, especially the coupling of harp and celeste, take on an ethereal sound world that accentuates the colors of the piece. David Robertson and the Orchestra gave the 12-minute work a persuasive reading, and Robertson brought Snider onstage to receive a warm round of applause."
“...Sarah Kirkland Snider’s colorful 'Something for the Dark' [is] a sort of concerto for orchestra. Each section enjoyed its moment to shine as the piece cycled through a series of themes and rhythmic variations. It begins with an ethereal high note played by a single violin, and expands into a Mahlerian world of sound and textures.”
“Startling and clear-sighted…Bold at first, ['Something for the Dark'] built fragile, shifting waves with the intricacy, strength and delicacy of a spider’s web. Flourishes emerged from inner voices, creating shimmering cascades of transmuted energy. A single tone of golden silk from concertmaster Sunho Kim brought this energy to a reflective grounding point, McAdams shaping these final moments with the gentle, yet sudden, dissolution of dappled shadows."
The New York Times
“'Something for the Dark'...approaches sound as a vast, malleable substance. In this sophisticated piece, repetition transforms the emotional charge of musical motifs. A turn of phrase may appear pretty at first, then take on shades of nostalgia before registering as a creepy obsession haunting the ear. Ms. Snider skillfully draws a wide arc, with throbbing brass accents and slashing chords driving up tension. The work ends quietly, as if on a question.”
Classical Voice of North Carolina
"This music is evocative, conjuring up happy times at its beginning and more troublesome times as it draws to a close. It is full of colors: celesta, muted trumpets, tubular chimes, snare drum interjections. While tonal, it is in no way old-fashioned...this is music worth hearing again."
Classical Voice of America
"...[Something for the Dark] represents the best of what a commission can yield. It is an imposing achievement marked by Snider’s unique musical language and decisive artistic vision…The charms of Something for the Dark serve a grand structural purpose. Snider persuasively develops a complex music form...a veritable master class in the craft of contemporary music composition."