The Light Fantastic is a large-scale three movement work for wind ensemble commissioned by the Serge Koussevitzky Foundation and the Library of Congress. Its title refers to the poetic expression “to trip the light fantastic”, meaning “to go dancing”.
The first movement, Squaring Off, is then a kind of square dance for winds. After an initial fanfare, three instrumental “couples” take turns “squaring off”: clarinet with bass clarinet, two trombones, and flute with piccolo. As the couples take turns, the tonality of the movement modulates. Eventually, all three couples take center stage together. However, they do so each in their original tonalities. With encouragement from the ensemble, they finally find compatibility. There, the ensemble responds with a brief return to the opening fanfare, and concludes with one final celebratory whirl around the dance floor.
Sarabanding refers to the Baroque slow dance, the sarabande. Here, fragments of sarabande-like melodic material are presented, then intensified, overlapped, and transformed. These cascading-like effects unfold and eventually “fall” into single pitch unisons. Interspersed, the original material (heard always in the clarinets) appears each successive time as if in the distance, farther away, until it disappears altogether at the movement’s conclusion.
Do the Hustle is a movement from which the Bass Clarinet explodes as soloist. Here, the ensemble presents and quickly moves through a series of ostinato “grooves”(the principal one being referencing the 1970’s mega disco hit of the same name). As the movement unfolds, the Bass Clarinet dances around and weaves in and out of these grooves. Each groove is often quickly concluded by a climax of sorts, only to be wound back up again and sent in another direction. With a full blown virtuoso cadenza, the Bass Clarinet suspends this activity briefly, followed by a final flourish and a race to the finish.