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Christopher Roberts's Trios for Deep Voices, a five-movement work scored for the unusual ensemble of three double basses, is a sort of musical evocation—sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly—of the sounds and life that composer Roberts experienced in the jungles of the Star Mountains region of Papua New Guinea, where he lived in the early 1980s.
Trios is an emotionally charged music of extreme virtuosity and extreme beauty—from passages laden with devilishly difficult harmonics and bowing techniques played at wild, breakneck tempos to pensive stretches of lyric, vocal-like melody to the myriad musical riches suspended between these extremes. It is performed by three double bass virtuosos—Christopher Roberts, Mark Morton, and James Bergman—who make many of its most difficult passages sound easy.
Some of this music came to Roberts in his dreams while living in New Guinea. The third movement, Kon Burunemo (“trembling leaf”) was written in memory of the extraordinary bassist and teacher David Walter, with whom Roberts studied.
Christopher Roberts is a composer and double bassist who is as comfortable within the Western classical, jazz, and folk traditions as he is within a number of non-Western Pacific Rim musical traditions and as an idiosyncratic solo improviser on the bass and other instruments. He grew up in Southern California (where his first bass was the “prop” bass, with bullet holes, from the Billy Wilder movie Some Like It Hot), but has spent much of his life since the early 1980s living overseas. Only fairly recently did he return to the United States, where he currently teaches music at Whatcom Community College in Bellingham, Washington. Roberts studied composition with Vincent Persichetti and double bass with David Walter at Juilliard, where he earned masters and doctoral degrees in both subjects. Following the focus and intensity of the conservatory environment, he shouldered his bass and went to live alone in Papua New Guinea, on a quest to understand natural prosody in music. This was followed by a Fulbright to Taiwan to study the Chinese classical qin (an ancient zither-like instrument), in a quest to understand idiomatic string composition in a culture and a way of training different from his own. Roberts has become a master of the qin (and Cold Blue has released a CD of his qin solos, Last Cicada Singing). He taught composition, theory, and double bass for a number of years at Soochow University in Taipei. Roberts was the subject of the award-winning documentary Songs of a Distant Jungle.
“A magnificent piece! There’s nothing like it. Roberts’ voice is truly original.” —Bertram Turetzky
“Roberts has arrived at a new American music by traversing the heart of Papua New Guinea, absorbing diverse traditions, and the result is something unique.” —Michael J. Schumacher