Amorphous Figures (String Quartet No. 2) (2022)

  • | ca. 21′ |  for The Juilliard String Quartet | co-commissioned by The Kennedy Center, Chamber Music Cincinnati and Da Camera Society of Houston for the JSQ
  • study on Helen Frankenthaler
  • PREMIERE: May 17th, 2023 Washington, D. C.
    • *for list of other performances go to Events.
Jacob’s Ladder, 1957. Oil on unprimed canvas, 9′ 5 3/8″ x 69 7/8″.
Gift of Hyman N. Glickstein. (82.1960). Museum of Modern Art, New York


Amorphous Figures (String Quartet No. 2) (2022) is a work written in response to Jacob’s Ladder (1957), a painting by the American abstract expressionist Helen Frankenthaler. I first discovered this work in 2019 when I had been taking frequent visits to the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Frankenthaler’s color palette and her sublime sense of space and movement immediately drew me to the canvas. I began to see musical characteristics of her abstraction. The hues dance around one another in a way that they begin to morph into one another subtly. The soft edges of these oil paints thinned with turpentine aid this quality of variations I found. With these themes in mind, musical elements such as motivic development and developing variation allotted me to begin my sketches of this work. Amorphous Figures consist of continuous variations that gradually expand on the melodic and gestural content of the work. The variations are interrupted by scherzo-like sections “Bursts I and II” . These contrasting sections are distinctive due to their pitch content and seemingly spontaneous, violent gestures. ” Bursts I and II” influence the structure material of the variations that follow them until they begin to synthesize into an amorphous collage in the same fashion as Frankenthaler’s masterpiece. Amorphous Figures was commissioned by Da Camera Society of Houston, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and Chamber Music of Cincinnati for the Juilliard String Quartet.

The Juilliard String Quartet photograph by Erin Baiano
Graphic sketch/ time mapping of “Burst 1” from Amorphous Figures (2022)