I had heard Vasko Dukovski and Ismail Lumanovski perform both classical pieces and the folk music of their Macedonian heritage—the latter involving much improvisation—and I wanted to write a composition that would allow expression of these various elements of their characters. I also knew that all three players were incredible musicians and virtuosi, and so as a composer I could enjoy writing very challenging music that they would relish exploring. The Grneta Ensemble’s particular skills and artistry presented a wonderful inspiration – after all, being able to write for two clarinets together is like writing for a “super-clarinet” that plays duets with itself.
The theme of Grneta Variations has a Jewish folk character, but with syncopations and phrase shifts that are not typically found in a normal folk tune. The variations that follow have a wide variety of moods and textures, in which the many possibilities of having two clarinets, and the wide variety of sonority and registers possible with those instruments are explored. The tempo is generally lively, except for two slow sections—one a romantic version of the melody introduced in the piano, and the other a more mysterious and extended meditation. The coda of the piece begins with a murmuring figure that grows to a climactic short cadenza in the clarinets, and a quick, rather humorous return to the opening theme.
– Gerald Cohen