"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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Thursday, March 16, 2006
for the trees

Percussionist/Composer J. B. Smith stopped here on Saturday in the midst of a 9-week tour. His road show is all about percussion and electronics, kind of a modern-day soloist touring with his own orchestra-in-a-box. The theme of the evening was looping, as three of the pieces featured the performer continuously recording his performance and building textures with the playback.

The most attractive pieces were the oldest and the newest. The latter distinction was held by Eric Richards: his finalbells dates from 2004. Richards has flown under my radar to date, but this piece had an appealing obsessiveness. For over ten minutes, Smith rubbed superballs on thirteen cowbells. As he played, his performance was looped and played back over the speakers, the combinations of overtones resulting in sounds that were truly lovely, sometimes sounding disorientingly like human voices. It was the kind of piece I tend to find annoying after about five minutes, but I stayed with it and ended up enjoying the decadent surrender to sensuousness.

The oldest work was You Can’t See the Forest…Music (1971) by Daniel Lentz. A sly conceptual piece, YCSF…M is performed with a single, full wine glass. The percussionist taps occasionally on the glass, taking a sip of the wine from time to time, so that the tapping pitch rises microtonally throughout. Meanwhile, he intones seemingly random phonemes (nt, ee, est, rr, etc.). All of this, in keeping with the evening’s theme, was recorded and played back as he performed. As a result, a gradual microtonal cluster builds from the tapped wine glass, while the spoken phonemes slowly coalesce into familiar aphorisms, such as the one suggested in the title.

The piece concludes with the performer slowly draining the glass, while the recording shimmers into a sparkling cluster accompanying comically mundane adages (“you can lead a horse to water…”).