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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Wednesday, March 02, 2005
Post-Partem

As promised, here is a review (though it might be more accurate to call it a practitionerís confession) of the Carolina Chamber Symphony concert of February 25th, on which I conducted the premiere of Revenant: Concerto for Horn and Orchestra, with David Jolley as the soloist.

I wonít comment on the first two works on the program for two reasons: 1) They were by Bach and Haydn, and this site is primarily concerned with new music, and 2) I was snoozing on a sofa in a hallway beneath the stage while they were being performed.

But the concert closed with my piece, for which I was wide awake and standing on the podium, baton in hand.

The performance got off to a very good start, especially considering that I almost forgot to put on my reading glasses before beginning. Itís the first time Iíve had to use that particular pharmaceutical enhancement in performance, so I was a bit out of my comfort zone. Without the spectacles, though, Iím afraid the performance would have been a complete disaster. So part of the credit for the success of the evening should go to Ben Franklin.

The first movement (Resonance) is a dirge, or, more accurately, the memory of a dirge. Again, I thought it got off to a fantastic start: the balances were excellent, the colors blended really well. In the middle section, which has a fast, hallucinatory, carnival atmosphere, the occasional slips in ensemble were more than made up for by the headlong momentum and energy.

But the final section, which is a transformation of the opening material, didnít work quite as well as the beginning. As a conductor, I think I was coasting a bit to the finish line, not really on top of every nuance. As a composer, I think I need to rethink and refocus the way the horn part ends. The first of these problems is irretrievable; the second is one of the reasons I love being a composer: I can always go back and improve myself.

The second movement is the trickiest to carry off. Itís very slow and static, so every phrase has to be shaped perfectly. I donít think I ever felt comfortably in control of the ending, and the performance bore out my fears. The oboe and piccolo were too loud, and itís clear to me in retrospect that the musicians didnít have 100% confidence that I knew how to get what I wanted. Having said that, I have to add that many people told me afterwards that the end of the second movement was their favorite part, so maybe Iím being too hard on myself. But maybe Iím the only one who knows how much better it could have been.

The third movement (Revelry) was a piece of cake... for me, that is. Itís a fast, exuberant dance movement, so all I had to do was keep moving and trust the musicians to play what was on the page. Itís the kind of piece that has a lot of flash, but isnít really as difficult as it sounds.

Overall, Iím very happy with the conciseness of the composition. I always have great respect for pieces that know what they are about, and this one definitely does. There are some details I will clean up in the next couple of weeks, but no major overhaul is necessary.

As a conductor, I know I did a credible job, but conducting is not really something that excites me, and that lack of interest is what keeps me from really excelling.

By contrast, as a critic, I think I leave a lot to be desired. I have no intention of quitting my day job.

Saving the best for last: with the exception of one late substitute who was a bit overmatched, the orchestra was outstanding. They put the whole program together in two rehearsals and a dress, and I couldnít have asked for more enthusiasm, consideration and technical/artistic excellence. And David Jolley was phenomenal: what a sweet, soulful, magnificent sound.

Finally, the audience was amazing. I keep hearing all the death knells for Classical music, or whatever this stuff should be called, so Iím always taken aback when I see a huge crowd giving a standing ovation to an outstanding performance. When will I stop being so surprised?