"There are no two points so distant from one another that they cannot be connected by a single straight line -- and an infinite number of curves."

Composer Lawrence Dillon has produced an extensive body of work, from brief solo pieces to a full-length opera. Three disks of his music are due out in 2010 on the Bridge, Albany and Naxos labels. In the past year, he has had commissions from the Emerson String Quartet, the Cassatt String Quartet, the Mansfield Symphony, the Boise Philharmonic, the Salt Lake City Symphony, the Ravinia Festival, the Daedalus String Quartet, the Kenan Institute for the Arts, the University of Utah and the Idyllwild Symphony Orchestra.

Although he lost 50% of his hearing in a childhood illness, Dillon began composing as soon as he started piano lessons at the age of seven. In 1985, he became the youngest composer to earn a doctorate at The Juilliard School, and was shortly thereafter appointed to the Juilliard faculty. Dillon is now Composer in Residence at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, where he has served as Music Director of the Contemporary Ensemble, Assistant Dean of Performance, and Interim Dean of the School of Music. He was the Featured American Composer in the February 2006 issue of Chamber Music magazine.

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Sunday, March 20, 2005
Notes Part 5: Seminar Part One

On Thursday, I met with Alexander Radvilovitch's composition class from the Conservatoire. We met in an astonishing room of faded, 19th-century splendor: red walls and dark, patterned woods, scuffed into indiscernibility (I will post photos from the seminar and other events on this trip when I return home -- my time on the internet here is too brief and scattered to attempt a camera hookup).

Just before I left the States, I got word that Radvilovitch wanted me to bring scores and CDs of music that had influenced my work. I didn't have the time or the luggage space to fully answer his request, but I quickly packed scores and disks to two brief, contrasting works that I felt would provide a provocative introduction to my Amadeus ex machina: the overtures to Adams's Nixon in China and Ades's Powder Her Face. It was a gamble: I had been warned that the students would be unaware of Charles Ives.

The atmosphere in the class was fascinating on several counts. First, a pleasant surprise: the students, all composers, seemed to be evenly split between men and women, a balance that has been rare in my encounters with composition classes in the US. Second, the seminar was conducted through three interpreters -- two students from the Conservatoire and one recent alum. Third, although I am accustomed to encouraging discussion, an informal give-and-take, in these kinds of encounters, Radvilovitch made it clear that he expected me to hold forth, lecture style, and he would save his responses for last.

All of this made it very challenging to gauge the temperature of the room, not only in order to give my music an effective presentation, but also to share my experience in a way that might benefit these young composers. In my younger, more sensitive days, I might have felt like a trap was being laid for me, that they were going to let me go out on a limb and then attack me for my aesthetics, my technique, or even my manner of presentation. But over time I have become more and more supportive and nurturing of all composers -- even the jerks -- and I've developed a corresponding sense of confidence in these situations. In ways I can't quite explain, even to myself, I've experienced a growing sense of closeness to everyone who feels this strange compulsion to shape sound that helps me feel more trustful and readily communicative.

So I talked briefly about minimalism and played the Adams. I spoke of distortionism and played the Ades. Then I started talking about the compositional process behind Amadeus ex machina. I quickly found myself abandoning any attempt to explain or represent American music, which is an uncomfortable stance for me to take in any circumstance. Instead, I spoke to them directly as composers, about the things that all composers are familiar with: the little epiphanies that have far-reaching consequences, the puzzling and rewarding journey toward self-awareness.

I'm going to have to stop here, but I will pick up this story as soon as I can, to tell you about the amazing questions and responses I got at the end of the seminar. That's it for now, though.