The Great Span is a piano quintet built in the shape of a suspension bridge: a long inverted arch stretched between two structural towers. It was important to me to write a different kind of piece than my first piano quintet from ten years earlier, which is divided into short movements of sharply contrasting character. Instead The Great Span relentlessly develops a single harmonic idea over a continuous 20-minute stretch. The only moments when the music deviates from this ground are when it encounters the two “towers,” moments of stormy drama demarcating the twin chaconnes that make up the majority of the piece.
The term “the great span” can also refer to distant historical periods linked by personal connections—someone alive today, for example, might remember living through the Great Depression, and have spoken with someone who remembered the Civil War. It’s a way to contextualize events within the briefness of human history. For me, time in music can also work this way. It can cause the listener’s perspective to shift, so that relatively recent occurrences seem to have happened long ago, and vice versa.