Wergeland’s Flower

Program Note

The official website of the Brillaner duo (Shirley Brill – clarinet and Jonathan Aner – piano) states: “A couple both on and off-stage, Shirley and Jonathan met during a ping-pong match”. To me, this easy-going, “user-friendly” description, paired with really outstanding musicianship and skill, best describes this unique duo.

Shirley and Jonathan commissioned Wergeland’s Flower in 2008 for a concert in Norway, celebrating the 200th anniversary of the birth of Norwegian national poet, Henrik Wergeland.

I originally intended the piece to follow a programmatic design, inspired by a particular Wergeland’s poem, Creation, to be recited following the piece. However, upon reading Wergeland’s poetry and discussing it with several native Norwegian speakers, the following two findings made me change my mind:

Not only a poet, but also a linguist, Wergeland wrote in Old Norwegian. Apparently his poems are not entirely decipherable to the average Norwegian reader.

Secondly, the complexity of his language aside, what emerged from the poetry itself is a sense of lyricism, and a rather naïve notion of love.

Both complexity and naivety equally interested me at the time (and still do). The two also seemed to resonate with these performers’ technical brilliance and polish, on the one hand, and their “unbearable lightness,” humor and ease, on the other (aka a ping-pong match).

The piece therefore came to be an account of some of my thoughts on these two subjects. The “flower” in the title originally had to do with the somewhat unfolding sense of the form. It is also the title of the last movement, where the simple, quasi-Norwegian scherzo tune of the clarinet finally abandons the complexity and fugal games and imitations of the piano.

Matti Kovler


World Premiere (Christiansand Hall, Norway)

The Brillaner Duo
Shirley Brill, clarinet
Jonathan Aner, piano


“ClarinetFest Day 1”
August 3rd, 2011, by Adam J. Berkowitz

…The next piece was Matti Kovler’s Shoresh Nishmat… which he loosely translates as Root Searching. It was performed by Margaret Thornhill, John Walz, and Twyla Meyer. For all the severity of the Andriessen, Kovler’s work proved to be an excellent contrast. The outer two movements were diaphanous with beautiful harmonies and wonderful combinations of timbre. The central section was a dance that moved along with grace and lightness.