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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Sunday, February 25, 2007
Music Now

Iím back home from the MUSIC NOW fest, but Iím not sure Iíve fully grasped what Iíve seen and heard at EMU in the last few days. I have a feeling that the significance of what Iíve experienced goes far beyond any personal benefits I may have gained, as ample as those are. It certainly went far beyond what I anticipated.

First of all, itís important to make the nature of this MUSIC NOW festival clear. Thereís no other way to say it: over a period of three days, several hundred people got as far inside my compositional head as possible. In contrast to the new music festivals that try to cover all the bases -- giving every composer and every approved stylistic trend an equal hearing -- this one sacrificed breadth for depth. Before I arrived, six of my compositions (reflecting my work from 1983 to 2005) were rigorously rehearsed by faculty, guest artists and students. Hundreds of students were assigned to write papers on me, on my music, and on my words. They researched, they asked me tough questions, they measured my responses against their own. In addition to the concerts, there were three events in which I spoke, attended by (my guesstimate) 40, 100, and 300 people.

What is the upshot of all this activity? Following a single composerís thought process as it progresses over the space of 22 years gives these students unique insights into one individualís artistic mission. Seems to me that theyíve been given a real opportunity to grasp the nature of artistic activity in a way that is clearly distinguished from the superficial handholding many students expect.

After the events of the last few days, these students are in a better position to understand and appreciate the next composer they meet, and the next one, and the one after that. Compare that to the questionable benefit of playing 10 minutes or so of fifteen different composers and identifying general stylistic trends Ė helpful in its way, but perhaps not as beneficial in the long run.

So much of our world demands that we learn to make snap judgments, marshalling a few salient details into alignment with a bigger picture. Nothing wrong with that, but itís good to have academic institutions that push us deeper into thought, rather than faster through received opinion.

In the next few posts, Iím going to attempt to lay out how the MUSIC NOW residency worked, in the hope that other institutions may consider using something akin to this format as well. Hopefully Iíll hear from others about similar ventures. I canít say it is a perfect approach in every way, but it has plenty to recommend it.

It certainly helped that the faculty and students of EMU are exceptionally collegial, curious and mutually supportive human beings.