The instrumentation of Simple Pleasures is, so far as I know, unique: alto flute, bassoon, viola, cello, piano, and vibraphone. I chose this peculiar sextet to feature instruments rarely heard in chamber music (alto flute and vibraphone) and to give foreground roles to supporting players from the standard repertoire (bassoon, viola, and to some extent cello). I also happen to like low sounds, so I stacked the deck with low-pitched instruments.
The title comes from a mistake a friend repeatedly made when referring to another piece of mine. Even after performing Mixed Blessings beautifully, he kept calling it Simple Pleasures. He just couldn't seem to remember the correct name. As this new piece developed I realized that my friend's title was a good fit. The piece has some folklike and childlike sections of relatively simple music. It also celebrates, often in rather simple ways, some of the basic pleasures of listening, such as recurring sounds, melodies that reappear in different settings, different kinds of moods and colors, instruments blended in unison, and so on. And of course for many of us listening to music with others is one of life's fundamental pleasures.
The South Bay Chamber Music Society commissioned Simple Pleasures to celebrate their 40th anniversary and to honor artistic director Sidney Stafford, who played the piano in early concerts and did all the programming for the first 39 years. I have long admired the series, its special audience, and its special spirit. To connect directly with its occasion, Simple Pleasures begins with a short piano piece that Sidney likes to play, one of the Lyric Pieces by Grieg. In borrowing Grieg's music for my piece, I hope to evoke Sidney Stafford sitting at his piano, enjoying the pleasures of solitary musicmaking. The music that follows is rather like a series of daydreams, at first related to the opening solo, and then wandering off in different directions (as daydreams do), adding more musicians and exploring multiple styles.
While composing I learned of the death of one of my musical heroes, Lou Harrison, a leading composer of our time, writer of much chamber music, and champion of musical and artistic traditions from all over the world. One movement of Simple Pleasures became a kind of memorial to Lou Harrison and a tribute to the welcome he provided to musics from other cultures.