Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Invasive Species Premiere Performance

For your viewing and listening pleasure I offer up the premiere performance of Invasive Species for piano quintet, performed by the incomparable Roger Woodward and the Alexander String Quartet in Berkeley, CA in March of 2014. (For a studio recording of the piece, score and parts, please visit Sheet Music Plus)

Here’s the program note for Invasive Species:

  • Three-Part Intention
  • March of the Yellow Crazy Ants
  • One-Part Incursion
  • Pretty Pretty Poison
  • Two-Part Ignition
  • E. globulus (10-20-1991)

The title Invasive Species refers to non-native species of plants and animals that, once introduced to a new environment, have an adverse affect on the habitats and bioregions they invade and colonize.

Specifically this piece is about three “invasive species” portrayed in alternating movements: yellow crazy ants (“March of the Yellow Crazy Ants”), water hyacinths (“Pretty Pretty Poison), and gum eucalyptus (“E. globulus”). Generally, the piece is about confrontations between like and unlike elements, as most obviously depicted by the confrontation between the piano and the string quartet.

The yellow crazy ant (Anoplolepis gracilipes) most likely originated in West Africa. Accidentally introduced to northern Australia, it has devastated the local ecology. The ant is called “crazy” because of its unpredictable movements and its long legs and antennae which render its erratic movements genuinely goofy. Goofy this movement is as well, which starts out quietly but ultimately takes over all the registral space available, from top to bottom, a metaphor for the ant’s invasive domination of its bio-environment.

The common water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) is a free-floating aquatic plant native to South America. Characterized by gorgeous, lavender-to-pink, six-petaled flowers, the water hyacinth has invaded and colonized large areas throughout North America, Asia, Australia, and Africa, where it has literally starved bodies of water of oxygen, thus killing off native species and choking entire ecosystems with its bulk. This movement is, in reality, two movements in one: a fast movement and a slow movement. In the first part, the strings portray a watery environment filled with life (and oxygen) that is slowly strangled by the emergence of the piano. The second part of the movement consists of a lush chorale for the piano (“pretty poison”), a chorale that nevertheless chokes off the unfortunate strings.

“E. globulus” refers to the Blue Gum Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus), an incredibly fast-growing tree native to Australia. Such Blue Gum Eucalyptus were planted in huge number in the San Francisco Bay Area during the nineteenth century in order to replace plundered native redwoods, in the erroneous belief that the Eucalyptus would supply timber when mature. It was a great ecological mistake. As it turned out, the hard, oily Eucalyptus wood made poor lumber but extraordinary tinder. The virtually explosive nature of this invasive species made itself abundantly clear during the Oakland Hills Fire Storm, which occurred on October 20, 1991, and which is still largely blamed on the combustibility of the Eucalyptus trees that fed the storm. In a series of progressive episodes, this movement depicts the growth, combustion, explosion, and storm of fire created by the Eucalyptus on 10-20-1991.

Three brief introductory movements precede each of the “invasive species”: “Three-Part Intention”, “One-Part Incursion”, and “Two-Part Ignition”. These titles are a labored reference to Johann Sebastian Bach’s Two and Three-Part Inventions. The reference to Bach was made irresistible by the superb recording of Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier made by pianist Roger Woodward, who is one of the dedicatees of the piece. Indeed, Woodward’s piano might well be considered the invasive element among the stringed instruments of his fellow dedicatees, the Alexander String Quartet.

Invasive Species is dedicated – with love and respect – to Roger Woodward and the Alexander String Quartet on the occasion of the ASQ’s thirtieth anniversary.


  1. I like it! It’s very well done–my favorite of the several pieces that you’ve posted over the years. If someone were to persuade the Alexanders to record it and post it on iTunes, etc., I’d be happy to buy it for a reasonable price.

  2. Very groovy.