I began writing My Beautiful Scream shortly after 9/11. I live in downtown Manhattan not far from where the towers stood. At night I would have this strange sensation that I was going to die. In general my life was very beautiful – my kids were at ages that were particularly magical. So it was this strange existence of living in beauty and having the sensation of a long drawn out internal scream.
The piece for the Kronos Quartet and orchestra is in a way a nonconcerto for string quartet. The quartet begins quiet, personal, and fine. The orchestra is more violent, menacing, and strident. But the quartet, which is amplified, gradually emerges to ride above the orchestra in a loud and emotional frenzy. The overall arch is a scream, in slow motion, beginning with the breath that one takes and reaching out to the extremity of the human cry. I have never taken the arch of a scream as a “form” before. Screams may be present in my music, but they happen suddenly without warning, frenetic and hyper. My Beautiful Scream demanded a more gradual unfolding – the unraveling of my own slow motion scream.
The piece was a co-commission by Orchestre National de France, the Basel Sinfonietta, and the Brooklyn Philharmonic. The work was premiered in February 2004 at Festival Presence in Paris.