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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Monday, December 11, 2006
Fifteen Minutes

Violinist/composer Piotr Szewczyk has an interesting project in the works. Heís commissioned a dozen or so composers to each write a one-minute piece for solo violin; he will premiere all of them as a set in the spring of 2007 at a New World Symphony Xchange concert, with a followup performance at the Spoleto Festival USA contemporary music festival.

Piotrís project is called ViolinFutura, and yes, he has a website for it.

When Piotr asked me to take part in this project last summer, I agreed without giving it much thought. I figured a one-minute piece for solo violin would be an afternoonís worth of work in between more substantial compositions.

The afternoonís work, though, dragged on through weeks and months, as I came up with and discarded one idea after another -- each one was either too dense to be contained in the tight limitations (one minute, one instrument) or too superficial to bother working on at all.

Then, about a month ago, I hit on a solution: rather than trying to choose just the right idea for the piece, I would use all of my ideas Ė and I quickly wrote sixteen one-minute pieces. Iíll be sending them off to Piotr presently, and it will be up to him to make the choice I was unable to make: picking one out of the sixteen pieces for his performance. Iíve called the set Fifteen Minutes, but my private title for it is Now Itís Your Problem.

The set of pieces is loosely centered around the theme of celebrity Ė thus the title, from Warholís statement, ďIn the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes.Ē Iíve written an extra minuteís worth, with my sixteen pieces, but the last piece is more of a decomposition than a composition: annoyed that Chopinís Minute Waltz takes a minute and a half to play, I took one beat out of each measure and turned it into a Minute March. The result is immediately recognizable, flashy, pathetic, and comically obnoxious Ė in fact, very much like any number of celebrities grabbing their bloated fifteen minutes worth today.

Now Iím faced with a familiar dilemma: this whole celebrity theme is real, and it makes good promotional copy, but should I really present that background information with the piece? I always have to weigh that decision on a case-by-case basis. It can be nice to clue the listener into artistic context, but the music is ultimately just music, so I have to decide if Iím just loading on more baggage than the notes should have to carry. In other words, if listeners come expecting some profound revelation about fame, itís likely they will end up being disappointed. Instead of simply enjoying or disliking the music for its own charms, they may judge it solely on how well it illustrates a point, which is not my intention at all.

So Iíll be contemplating this problem for the next few weeks, and hopefully coming to a solution I can stand by. The music has to get to Piotr by the new year.