"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.

Visit Lawrence Dillon's Web Site

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Sunday, July 27, 2008
They were purists

Thanks, Jerry, for the Front-Page Cheerio.

Kyle Gann has written another one of his excellent assessments of the contemporary music landscape. This time the topic is complexity vs. simplicity.

He covers a lot of ground in 4700 words, but he still leaves a few little peninsulas for the rest of us to explore. Here’s one for me, and I’ll start with a few sweeping generalizations:

In the early-20th century, with the emancipation of the dissonance, the notion arose that all twelve tones should be equal, as opposed to the monarchist tyranny of the tonic.

In the mid-20th century, the next logical step was taken: all sounds should be treated equally. Any sound that occurred during a performance should be cherished, as opposed to the composer-as-dictator determining exactly which sounds belonged in the piece and which ones didn’t.

In the 1970s, when I was in school, another logical step had taken place, although I don’t believe anyone would have described it this way. People had begun to argue for the equality of all ideas – in other words, no one moment in a piece of music was supposed to attract attention to itself as being more important than any other moment.

“Doesn’t that violin passage stand out a bit?” a teacher would ask, and the sheepish student would dutifully crack the whip and pull the violin back into the pack of busy-ness from which it had momentarily emerged.

The underlying concept, although again I don’t believe it was ever expressed this way, was that the perfect piece should keep everything – notes, sounds, gestures – on a single, equal playing field, not showing favoritism to anything lest it be heard as somehow superior to its surroundings. It was a vague, unarticulated kind of political correctness. Unfortunately, it led to a lot of undistinguished composing, in which any moment could be mistaken for any other moment. I remember hearing professors criticize individual notes for sounding like leading tones; I remember hearing them criticize octave doublings. The underlying message was Don’t Emphasize Anything.

Elliott Carter wanted to create a new kind of concerto, in which the soloist was treated as part of the orchestra, rather than standing apart in a featured role. His efforts were emblematic of the time.

Roger Sessions, when asked about minimalism, quipped, “Well, of course, the absolute minimum is zero,” and in that witticism lay the crux of a generation’s thinking: their gazes were fixed firmly on the absolutes.