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, November 29, 2006
Art Objects

Iíve written, and others have written, often about the challenges of a life in the arts. There are definitely undeniable pleasures, though.

Last Monday I had a few hours to kill before the premiere of Singing silver, so I headed up to MoMA.

In recent years, I have stopped Doing Museums and focused on Doing Art instead. In order to Do Art, I approach museums as if they were concerts: I pick about a half dozen works to spend a total of two hours enjoying. Each piece gets my undivided attention for anywhere from six to sixty minutes.

Undivided is an exaggeration, of course, because the mind is a lively thing. But I do focus intently on the work at hand, waiting until I have a nuanced understanding of its composition before I look at the placard telling me who made it, what it is called and how much it cost. This sidebar information is interesting, but all of it is peripheral, meaning none of it is a substitute for the actual artistic experience. And yet, how easy it is to race through a museum, spending more time reading the signs next to the paintings than reading the paintings themselves.

So now I look the way I listen to music -- noting correspondences, variations, intensities, conflicts, etc., as they arise over time. I donít have much of a vocabulary for the visual arts: my responses are largely pre- and post-verbal. (On the other hand, I have an excellent vocabulary for music, but I canít say itís always of much use to me as a listener.)

At MoMA, there were six works, in six different rooms, that got my full attention. Each one showed an intelligence Iím not accustomed to acknowledging in inanimate objects. Over the course of our encounters, each one revealed a multiplicity of perspectives, a greater density of thought than I could have gathered in a shorter time. And when I left, after two hours, I had more to occupy my mind than I could ever find in the most conscientious catalogue.

As I noted above, I stopped Doing Museums a few years ago Ė actually about ten years ago, when I read Jeanette Wintersonís essay ďArt Objects.Ē I would love to quote the entire essay, because it is full of felicitous observations, but itís about 20 pages long, so here is just one sample:

ďLong looking at paintings is equivalent to being dropped into a foreign city, where gradually, out of desire and despair, a few key words, then a little syntax make a clearing in the silence. Art, all art, not just painting, is a foreign city, and we deceive ourselves when we think it familiar. No-one is surprised to find that a foreign city follows its own customs and speaks its own language. Only a boor would ignore both and blame his defaulting on the place. Every day this happens to the artist and the art.Ē

To which I can only add that itís amazing what you can learn when you assume a work of art is smarter than you are.