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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Friday, June 16, 2006
Symphony No. 2: the Overture

Composing for orchestra involves a lot of busywork. Ten minutes of music can easily translate into hundreds of pages of score and parts, all of which have to be precisely marked and carefully proofread. Every nuance Ė slurs, dynamics, articulations Ė should be meticulously indicated, so that the orchestra wonít spend the brief spell typically allotted for rehearsal in trying to figure out how the music is supposed to sound. Any mistake in the score or parts can cause destructive delays in the rehearsal process.

The amount of time actually spent composing can easily be outweighed by these other tasks. For that reason, I only write for orchestra when I have a commission. My time is just too valuable to me to spend it on so much busywork without the promise of a performance.

Iíve had seven orchestral commissions over the last fourteen years. Just enough to keep my chops sharp, but not nearly enough to exhaust all of the ideas I have for orchestra. And yet, I know that I am very fortunate to have had that many opportunities Ė there are many composers with extraordinary gifts who struggle to get any commissions at all.

And then there are a number of composers with perfectly ordinary gifts who have figured out how to work the system for numerous commissioning opportunities. That may sound bitter, but I donít mean it that way Ė itís just a fact that working the system requires different talents from composing. Some people have both skills, some people have one or the other. I tip my hat to anyone who can make the most of whatever skills they may have.

When I was a kid, I thought it was amazing that Haydn wrote 104 symphonies. Now I realize it was just a matter of demand Ė if I lived in a world that required 104 symphonies from me, I would have no trouble responding. On the planet I occupy, though, there are just a few orchestras that -- combined -- require a piece from me every other year or so. I accept that as an incontrovertible fact of my life, and I focus on other challenges.

But now I find myself embarking on a quixotic venture, at least for me. I have begun working on my second symphony, with no commission and with no hope of performance. I just have a number of ideas that have been bouncing around in my head for the last seven years or so and itís time to work them out. Iím also intrigued by the challenge of writing this piece over the course of the summer, and keeping a blog-chronicle of how things are proceeding, what choices are being made and why.

So thereís a bit of background. In the coming months, Iíll plug away at this symphony, and keep a weblog of my progress. Hopefully the pressure of keeping the blog going will distract me from the fact that there is no performance waiting at the end.

If all proceeds according to plan, come September Iíll have a substantial new piece of music -- to file away on a shelf somewhere.

More next week.