To That Still Center was commissioned by the Pine Mountain Music Festival for premiere in 1991 by pianist Robert Miller with the Pine Mountain Music Festival Symphony Orchestra. The piece is conceived as an exploration of the experience of psychological time. It was inspired by sleepless nights in a dorm at Oxford University, windows wide open on (unusually) hot summer nights in 1990, as the famous bells of Oxford disagreed about when to sound the quarter chimes and the hours. The result was a cacophony of bells every few minutes alternating with the most complete silence I've ever experienced in any city. Because of those origins, the piece has a generally nocturnal spirit. Also, anyone familiar with Oxford's bells will recognize several specific Oxford quarter chimes quoted throughout piece. Through these one can trace changing rate at which time passes.
The title comes from part of a sonnet by Dorothy L. Sayers (incorporated into her novel Gaudy Night), depicting an idealized Oxford at rest - an image I recalled while will not sleeping, but marveling at that stillness.
Here then at home, by no more storms distrest,
Folding laborious hands we sit, wings furled;
Here in close perfume lies the rose-leaf curled,
Here the sun stands and knows not east or west,
Here no tide turns; we have come, last and best,
From the wide zone in dizzying circles hurled
To that still center where the spinning world
Sleeps on its axis, to the heart of rest.