"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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Monday, February 28, 2005
The First Time

After the concert Friday night, a woman came up to congratulate me, then said, “I just love hearing a new piece for the first time.” This was a wonderful thing for me to hear, and I told her so. She continued, “I was taught that you should always listen very carefully the first time you hear a new piece, because you will never have that experience [of hearing that music for the first time] again.”

When I heard those words, four pieces immediately popped into my head: 4’33”, Le sacre du printemps, Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto and Josquin’s Absalon, fili mi.* I felt a complex mix of emotions: sadness that I would never again experience any of those pieces for the first time, and exhilaration at the thought of all the people who have yet to hear those pieces, who have yet to have the kind of transformative experiences I had when I first heard them.

One of the joys of teaching is being able to vicariously relive this loss of virginity to favorite works, as you share them with avid young listeners.

But I was grateful to this particular listener on Friday night for articulating something that I had begun to take for granted. You should always listen carefully the first time you hear a new piece. Those words will stay with me for some time to come. I think they can apply to a wide range of listening experiences, with new and old music.

I’m reminded of a line I heard about ten years ago that has also stayed with me, though I can’t recall the author. I’d be very pleased if anyone out there could identify the source of this one for me: “The oldest books are new releases to those who haven’t read them.”

*I keep wondering -- why these four pieces in particular? Out of the hundreds of compositions that have opened my ears, I really can’t put my finger on why these specific works popped into my head at that moment, but there they were.