Lawrence Dillon@Sequenza21.com

"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, February 06, 2005
Pocket Theater

In 1919, cut off from royalties and family estate earnings by the Russian Revolution, Stravinsky composed a ďpocket theaterĒ work for three actors, 1 dancer and 7 instruments in the hopes of making a little money on tour around Switzerland. Unfortunately, an outbreak of Spanish Influenza, which killed almost 20 million in Europe, closed down all performance venues, so the debut tour of Líhistoire du soldat ended after one performance.

In an effort to make something out of nothing, Stravinsky composed a suite arrangement of the piece for clarinet, violin and piano. He skipped several movements from the original, because they didnít translate well for the reduced ensemble. Most notorious of his omissions was the final Triumphal March of the Devil, which brought the original piece to a powerful conclusion.

Clarinetists and violinists have long lamented this omission on Stravinskyís part: the suite as he arranged it has a very unsatisfactory ending. Igor Begelman and Joseph Genualdi decided to do something about it. What did they do? They asked me if I would come up with an arrangement of the final march.

I canít speak for other composers, but I get this type of request from time to time, I suppose on the assumption that anyone who can write music is certainly qualified to make arrangements. Not a bad assumption, as far as it goes. I usually respond by saying that I would be happy to write an original piece for them if they need some music, but arranging other composersí works doesnít interest me.

But this situation was different, for two reasons. First, the piece in question is an unqualified masterpiece of the twentieth century, and Stravinskyís arrangement is truly a diminishment of the original. Second, there was a huge challenge to overcome: the original devilís march ends with an extended percussion cadenza. How could that possibly be rescored for clarinet, violin and piano?

My answer: make use of the unemployed musician who gets the thankless task of serving as page-turner for the pianist. For the last movement, the page-turner is unnecessary, so Iíve provided him/her with a simple tom part to play throughout the march, wherever Stravinsky indicated bass drum. The pianist plays high clusters for the cymbals, and the clarinetist honks indeterminate multiphonics for some of the intermediate drums. When the cadenza begins, the tom part heats up, the pianist closes the keyboard lid and starts rapping on it (great resonance!). The violinist and clarinetist lean into the piano, grab some mallets and play Stravinskyís rhythms on the soundboard and iron frame.

The result is a ďpocket theaterĒ ending to this otherwise untheatrical arrangement. You may not feel that it is an improvement on Stravinkyís version (I think it is), but at least itís an alternative for musicians who are not too artistically inhibited to take it on. And it will be premiered here on February 22nd.