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, August 19, 2007
Return and Exit

Iíve taken a few weeks' hiatus from blogging, and Iíve been surprised at how good it has felt to disappear from view a bit. Iíve spent long periods of my life in hibernation, so the last two-and-a-half years of keeping a public accounting of what Iím doing and thinking has been very challenging, and mostly beneficial. But I still love hiding away for a while. And I definitely need it from time to time.

What have I been doing these last few weeks? Traveling some, visiting relatives Ė by my unofficial count, I think I saw 26 of them Ė but also spending a lot of time sitting alone, thinking through things, trying out different sounds in my head. Spending this much time alone pays double dividends: I make nice progress on my work, and I stay sane.

I seem to have a very limited tolerance for social interaction.

In June, I made a list of seven pieces I would work on over the summer. Three of them are virtually finished: I just have to make the parts and proofread. Another three received a smattering of attention over the last few weeks, but still have a long ways to go -- theyíll get more substantial work later. And one Ė Exit Ė has taken a considerable amount of my time, progressing very slowly, at times exhilarating and at times immensely frustrating.

Exit is the latter half of a pairing of pieces Iíve been dreaming of writing for ten years: two pieces that would frame a concert (the other is called Entrance). Both pieces use spoken text. Both tell their stories in the second person -- a terrific narrative challenge, to be sure. Entrance tells of something that happened to one member of the audience years ago, and relates it to the concert she is about to hear. Exit takes another audience member on a whirlwind excursion through the rest of her life -- everything that will happen to her following the concert. Both stories are fictional, of course, filled with wheels-within-wheels narrative. And the two narratives are linked, although very sparingly. Iíll be posting both texts later in the fall.

Iím using actors for the spoken parts, so the notation is a bit of a nightmare: I have to create musical frameworks that will hold together regardless of how much the narration speeds up or slows down at any given point. Each musician will cue off of specific words in the text; the overlap of instrumental parts will create a constantly shifting harmonic fabric. Iíve done this kind of thing before, but it doesnít get any easier with experience.

Working with actors on a piece of music is very liberating, and very scary. Playwright Edward Albee once confessed an envy of composers, for the way they are able to indicate all of their timings down to the last millisecond. Musicians count time in precise subdivisions; actors just feel it. Working with actors always stretches my ability to convey my ideas, especially in the realm of precision timing.

Another stretch is visual. I know exactly how I want the piece to sound, but I have to give a lot more thought to how I want it to look, because actors occupy a different realm of visual space from musicians. Itís not the same kind of imagination I am used to.

Entrance and Exit will be premiered in November, but I really have to finish writing them in the next couple of weeks, because the performers Ė both musicians and actors -- will want a couple of months to acclimate themselves to the unusual demands. They are all going to be doing things they werenít trained to do in school. Fortunately, several of the people Iím working with have a long familiarity with my work, so they trust me not to ask them to do crazy things that wonít work. That trust is precious to me. Iím putting a lot of pressure on myself to make sure that everything I am doing is thoroughly considered Ė the timing, the look, the notation Ė everything.