Michael Byron (b. 1953) was a pupil of James Tenney, and later, of Richard Teitelbaum. The body of music he has composed over the past thirty years has been harmonically rich, rhythmically detailed, and increasingly virtuosic. Dreamers of Pearl (2004–05) evinces a sensitivity for the sound of the piano, a sensibility of extended playing/listening, and an interest in repetition and change through gradual and seemingly clandestine processes that transform and extend what we hear.
Despite the lyrical (and, one might assume, programmatic) titles of the three movements (“Enchanting the Stars,” “A Bird Revealing the Unknown to the Stars,” “It Is the Night and Dawn of Constellations Irradiated”), Dreamers of Pearl is a self-contained piece of pure (“absolute”) music without obvious quotation or extra-musical references. Dreamers makes its case within a classically-balanced architectural design: three extended “fast-slow-fast” movements of roughly equal length (263, 199, and 226 measures, respectively). The notation is meticulous, specific, precise. Much of the work’s texture could be characterized as Baroque, given the perpetual motion of the consistent two-voiced polyphonic layering—some of it cryptically and distortedly imitative.
Dreamers belongs to a rare class of recent piano music—monumental compositions of great length, beauty, and depth—all self-consciously bound to tradition-oriented genres and their deeply ingrained structures, yet inventive and thrilling in ways that inspire a few brave pianists to dedicate themselves wholeheartedly to these often mercilessly difficult pieces. Joseph Kubera, the tremendously gifted pianist for whom Dreamers of Pearl was written, is one of those brave few.