Dr. Ronald Staheli, more than any other conductor I have ever worked with, understands my music. He is that rare musician who discovers more music in the music than the composer even realized was there. So when I received the Barlow Commission to write a work for his amazing choir, I knew it had to be something special. The previous year Ron had recorded my Water Night, and his recording is, in my opinion, the quintessential performance of that piece. He seemed to find such powerful beauty in the rests, empty moments that became electric in his hands, so as I set out to write When David Heard I decided that my first and most principal musical motive would be silence.
The text, one single, devastating sentence, is from the King James Bible; II Samuel, 18:33:
When David heard that Absalom was slain he went up into his chamber over the gate and wept, my son, my son, O Absalom my son, would God I had died for thee!
Setting this text was such a lonely experience, and even now just writing these words I am moved to tears. I wrote maybe 200 pages of sketches, trying to find the perfect balance between sound and silence, always simplifying, and by the time I finished a year later I was profoundly changed. Older, I think, and quieted a little. I still have a hard time listening to the recording.
When David Heard was commissioned by the Barlow Endowment for the Arts for the Brigham Young Singers, and is dedicated with love and silence to Dr. Ronald Staheli.
When David Heard received its premiere on March 26, 1999.