At the Zoo is a set of three short dances for trumpet and bassoon. The titles come from Mr. Palomar, Italo Calvino's collection of fictional essays in which Mr. Palomar observes the world around him. While the music was written before being titled, the imagery in Calvino's essays significantly matches the moods created in each movement. Musically, each dance explores a different interval: the first movement makes particular use of the major second; major and minor thirds form the building blocks of the second movement; and the final movement utilizes the minor second in an insistent way.
I. The giraffe race
The first stop in Mr. Palomar's visit to the Vincennes zoo is the giraffes' yard. Calvino describes the seemingly uncoordinated movements of the giraffes as they charge the fence, spin around, and dash back again and again before abruptly stopping to rest. Mr. Palomar is transfixed by their movement, because they are at once harmonious and inharmonious.
II. The albino gorilla
In the Barcelona zoo, Mr. Palomar pushes his way to the glass to see Snowflake, the albino gorilla. The gorilla turns to the crowd with a gaze of desolation and patience–a cumbersome presence. In the white beast's motionless immensity, Mr. Palomar senses the antiquity of pyramids and mountains.
III. The order squamata
In the reptile house of the Paris zoo, Mr. Palomar observes the Iguanas. These cumbersome lizards are covered with a skin woven from tiny speckled scales and complemented with crests of spikes. The lizards continuously shift position with agile motions of elbows and knees. As Mr. Palomar moves through the reptile house he notices that scales and quills seem to be passed from one display to the other in a random fashion–as if the species are constantly being shaped and reshaped.