Flashes and Illuminations was commissioned by Reader’s Digest/ Meet the Composer for baritone Sanford Sylvan and pianist David Breitman. Honoring their long musical partnership, I composed a piece that falls equally to pianist and singer, from poets who invite sustained reflection. The title comes, in part, from the “Flashes and Dedications” section of Eugenio Montale’s book La Bufera (The Storm), in which the poem “Sulla Greve” appears (the Greve is a small river near Florence). For Montale, the “flash” is a momentary perception of the natural world or a human interaction that brings sudden insight. Each poem suggested to me a Montalean flash: sudden, muted lightning on the horizon.
– John Harbison