David Clay Mettens, composer

David Clay Mettens headshot

The Chicago Tribune has praised the music of David “Clay” Mettens (b.1990) as “a thing of remarkable beauty,” displaying a “sensitive ear for instrumental color.” He reflects upon the experience of wonder in music that ranges from rich and sonorous to bright and crystalline, seeking expressive immediacy in lucid forms and dramatic shapes. His work has been recognized with a 2016 ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Award, the 2015 SCI/ASCAP graduate student commission, and a commission from the American Opera Initiative, premiered in December 2015 by the Washington National Opera at the Kennedy Center. His orchestra piece “Sleeping I am carried...” was selected for the 24th Annual Underwood New Music Readings with the American Composers Orchestra and the 2015 [‘tactus] Young Composers Forum with the Brussels Philharmonic. Subsequently, the Brussels Philharmonic, led by Stéphane Denève, performed the piece in December 2016 at Flagey Studio 4 as part of their Music Chapel Festival.

Additionally, his works have been performed by the New York Virtuoso Singers, Contempo at the University of Chicago, Ensemble Dal Niente at the 2017 SCI National Conference, the Civitas Ensemble on the Chicago Ear Taxi Festival, and the [Switch~ Ensemble] at the Queens New Music Festival. He is currently a student in the Ph.D. composition program at the University of Chicago, where he has studied with Augusta Read Thomas and Sam Pluta. He earned his masters degree at the Eastman School of Music and completed undergraduate studies at the University of South Carolina with a degree in music composition and a clarinet performance certificate. Website:  www.mettensmusic.com

David Clay Mettens' piece Stain, Bloom, Moon, Rain premiered with the Grossman Ensemble on March 13, 2020. 

Performance notes: 

In October 2016, I came across a collection of 9th and 11th century Japanese poems, in English translations by Jane Hirshfield. I was struck by the simplicity of these aphoristic poems, as well as the immense range and depth of their emotional content, exploding out of their modest, five-line forms. I’ve returned to them as sources of inspiration for my music a number of times over the last four years, first with Into the empty sky for sextet and electronics, and then in two groups of settings: In this world for soprano and large ensemble and Ink Dark for mezzo-soprano and string quartet. As much as the poetry already aligned with the hazy dream worlds and delicate textures of my earlier music, its varied imagery also pushed me to expand my compositional language to incorporate new gestures, sound worlds, and musical juxtapositions. My piece for the Grossman Ensemble, stain, bloom, moon, rain, explores four such images that recur throughout the poetry collection. In the first movement, stains manifest as soft, sustained dissonant harmonies or noisy additions to the characteristic sounds of the instruments, like metaphorical guitar distortion pedals. At the beginning of the second movement, a simple dyad gradually blooms outward into richer and richer harmonies. The latter half of the movement re-imagines these dyads as luminous chimes accompanying distant solos. The final movement recontextualizes several of the musical ideas and poetic images from the preceding two movements, reflecting the poets’ practice of recycling the same images with new emotional valences. Rain alternately suggests aging, loneliness and dejection, or a cool balm to relieve burning, racing thoughts. Here, it transforms harsh or brittle points into a blurry watercolor of bleeding colors and dripping harmonies.

Grossman Ensemble premieres David Clay Mettens' "Stain, Bloom, Moon, Rain"