"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 creates works that connect past and present in attractive and unexpected ways, provoking Gramophone to exclaim, “Each score is an arresting and appealing creation, full of fanciful and lyrical flourishes within traditional forms that are brightly tweaked." His music is characterized by a keen sensitivity to color, a mastery of form, and what the Louisville Courier-Journal has called a "compelling, innate soulfulness." Despite losing 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 immediately 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.
Dillon's music, in the words of American Record Guide, is "lovely...austere...vivid and impressive." Three recordings of his music were released in 2010-2011 on the Bridge, Albany and Naxos labels. His works have been commissioned and premiered in the last four seasons by the Emerson String Quartet, Le Train Bleu, the Ravinia Festival, the Daedalus String Quartet, the Lincoln Trio, the Seattle Chamber Music Society, the Cassatt String Quartet, the Mansfield Symphony, the Boise Philharmonic, Wintergreen Summer Arts Festival, the Salt Lake City Symphony, the Quartetto di Sassofoni d’Accademia, the University of Utah and the Idyllwild Symphony Orchestra.
In October 2010, Bridge Records released “Insects and Paper Airplanes,” a disk of Dillon’s chamber music featuring the Daedalus String Quartet and pianist Benjamin Hochman. Gramophone called it "highly recommended," saying, "Just when you thought the string quartet may have reached the edge of sonic possibilities, along comes a composer who makes something novel, whimsical and haunting of the genre."
Dillon’s recording “Appendage and Other Stories” made Fanfare Magazine’s 2010 Want List. Raymond Tuttle wrote of it, "This is a terrific work. In fact, it is so good it made me weep. And Dillon, with his vivid imagination and his ear for vocal and instrumental color, seems to be a terrific composer.”
In April 2011, Naxos released “Violin Music of Lawrence Dillon” featuring Sphinx Grand Prizewinner Danielle Belén. MUSICWEB INTERNATIONAL described it as "an hour of music that is often profound without being pretentious, sometimes light-hearted but never 'lite', humorous without being arch, and immensely appealing but never frivolous."
Lawrence Dillon is represented by Jeffrey James Arts Consulting.
Over the years, many people have told me, and I may have told one or two myself, that you can’t really be a composer and have a family. Now that I’m seven+ years into fatherhood, I’d like to share my current perspective.
History gives us conflicting – even paradoxical – evidence. Bach’s twenty-one kids didn’t seem to slow him down even a tad. On the other hand, we should probably be grateful (for their sake, if not for his and ours) that there were no little Beethovens demanding Papa Ludwig’s attention.
Although history is often illuminating, the lessons are so inconclusive and the expectations of parenthood have changed so much over the years that it really makes more sense to stick with the present.
Occupying ones imagination with music that nobody else can hear requires a great deal of focused attention, and young children would seem to be designed to suck up focused attention like an invading army of vacuum cleaners bearing down on a colony of dust bunnies. I think it is fair to say that having children is going to put at least a temporary dent in the depth – if not the breadth — of your output.
Also, with thousands of composers crawling the planet chasing commissions, performances and other signs of attention, one is definitely put at a disadvantage if preoccupied with the well-being of wholly dependent fledglings. There is only so much time in each day, and lost time is one of a composer’s worst enemies.
On the other hand, nothing gives you a clearer perspective on your own childhood – and any current childish tendencies you may have retained – than having kids. Progeny can be very effective playback devices, helping you revisit your most cherished limitations and assumptions in real time. What you do with that perspective is up to you. For some, that kind of perspective can stunt creativity; for others (and I’ll go ahead and put myself in this category), it provides creative clarity and direction.
An immeasurable element for consideration is the love one gives and receives as a parent, a love that only resembles other loves superficially. Again, what you do with that love is up to you. For some, it provides contentment that serves as a palliative to the itch of ambition, slowing down the urge to create. For others, it can bring a measure of self-confidence that impels one to seek otherwise unattempted levels of achievement.
I can only speak directly about fatherhood, and only from my own experience, and my experience is, like everyone’s, limited. So far, the positives have far exceeded my hopes.
Motherhood is a topic both closely related and unfathomably distant. In all the discussions about the differences in opportunity for male and female composers, I don’t believe I’ve heard specific mention of the difference between being a composer who is a woman and being a composer who is both a woman and a mother. Anecdotally, I can say that the composers I’ve known who were also mothers didn’t have large families. If anyone can point me to data on this topic, I’d be much obliged. It makes sense to blame Robert for Clara Schumann’s lack of development as a composer (though their letters show him urging her in that direction), but it’s difficult to understand why one doesn’t hear of her seven children being an impediment.
I can only guess what it would be like to be the mother of many children and maintain a life as a composer. Does anyone know from personal experience?
I realize I’m treading on somewhat treacherous terrain, full of chicken-and-egg ramifications, so I’ll just add that I don’t have an agenda, other than to raise questions I haven’t heard raised, and possibly get some answers, or at least reasonable discussion.
And, of course, I’m sensitive to the fact that just because I haven’t heard a topic discussed in no way assures that the discussion hasn’t taken place out of my earshot.
I’m off to Seattle today. I think I have alluded to, but not explained, the wonderful situation I am walking into. It’s a situation every composer should be afforded on a regular basis, so I’m going to describe it in the hopes that my description might spur other organizations to imitate it.
I’ve been commissioned by Seattle Chamber Music Society’s Commissioning Club to create a septet to be premiered on their summer festival. Over the last six months or so, the club, led by composer Jeremy Jolley, has been getting together from time to time to discuss my music. On Sunday they will meet me — and I will meet them — for the first time, and we’ll talk about the new piece I’ve written. Then in July I will return for the premiere.
What’s not to like about this scenario? Curious music lovers support the creation of a new work and get a glimpse into a composer’s creative process. The composer gets paid for his work and gets it performed before a knowledgeable, engaged audience.
There are so many communities that have the resources to create this kind of setup. All it really takes is one person with vision and persuasive skills to bring it off.
So I’m getting ready to board transcontinental. If I find out more about how this club works, I will share when I return.
In my last post, I declared the intention to complete my sixth string quartet by Tuesday.
Tuesday is tomorrow.
As it happens, I am nowhere close to finishing this piece. But the pressure I put on myself to get it done had some benefits. I now have some very clear parameters I’m working with:
First movement is a long, excursive piece; second movement is much shorter, very concise.
There are two possible endings for the first movement – I think that deciding how to end the first movement may be one of the last things that happens in the compositional process.
There is a lot of work to be done on the second movement, but I think it’s mostly clerical work (making sure all the details are in order), as opposed to imaginative work (figuring out what needs to happen).
I still intend to set it aside on Wednesday for other projects. Can’t wait to see what I think of it when it returns front-and-center.
I’ve been working on my sixth string quartet off and on for the last few months. I don’t have to get it to the group that will premiere it until next January, so no rush. But my work on it has coalesced to the point where I’ve decided to give myself a deadline of next Tuesday to finish it.
Why next Tuesday? There are a couple of orchestra pieces I need to get cracking on, and I’m going to an orchestra concert next Tuesday night, so I figure I will sit down next Wednesday morning and crack away, preferences and prejudices fresh in my ears
But why not just set the quartet aside in whatever state it happens to find itself? Because, as I say, the piece is at that point where some pressure – even artificial pressure — will be beneficial. I could dicker around with it for another year, but it’s close enough to being a real composition that I want to just force the issue a bit. Focus on getting it done, and a lot of the loose pieces may fall in place.
Really, it’s a no-lose situation. I might not complete the piece by next Tuesday – in which case, I still have 8 months to finish it. By forcing myself to push through it, I might end up with something I really don’t like – but again, I have another 8 months, and one of my favorite things to do besides starting a new piece is to start over on a piece I’ve chucked in the recycling.
Then there is always the chance it could turn out just right by next Tuesday.
In my last post, I gave a heads-up about Piotr Szewczyck’s upcoming performance of the Violin Futura project at Carnegie Hall. One of the items he’ll be dishing out is the premiere of Broomstick, a piece for violin and piano I wrote last year. Here is a little pre-premiere info:
To illustrate the first of his six artistic principles – Lightness – Italo Calvino recalls the weight of the domestic life borne by women through the centuries. In a leap that conveys the power of the imagination, these women took the tool of their servitude – the broom – and transformed it into an extraordinary symbol of lightness and power, donning their steep-peaked hats and soaring off to the moon.
After performing his Violin Futura program a gazillion times all over the map in the last six years, Piotr Szewczyk is bringing it to NYC next month.
What is Violin Futura? In the words of Santa Fe New Music, it is an “enthralling program [that] shows off the diversity and range of the contemporary violin.” As Piotr says, “I created the Violin Futura project because I wanted to expand the contemporary violin repertoire with pieces that are exciting to play and listen to while bringing something new and unique to the repertoire. Violin Futura is currently in its 3rd edition and I have over 40 pieces written for me by composers from United States, Germany, England, Japan, Canada, Mexico, and Australia.”
The version he will be playing at Carnegie’s Weill Recital Hall includes works by Kari Henrik Juusela, John Kennedy, Marc Mellits, Gary Smart, Adam Schoenberg, Richard Belcastro, Sydney Hodkinson, Clifton Callender (World Premiere), Moritz Eggert, Piotr Szewczyk, Ethan Wickman, and Lawrence Dillon (World Premiere).
The admission price is $10. Anyone interested in an introduction to what the 21st-century violin is about can have it all at an excellent price.
End-of-the-year recording session coming for my students on Friday, the last day of classes. The Cassatt String Quartet will be in town to record three of my students’ works:
Kenneth Florence: Aeon Transfer
Nicholas Rich: Songs at Sunset
Bruce Tippette: Tranquil Lullabye
All three works are challenging, but I’m sure the composers are going to be mighty pleased with the results. As for me, it will be great to reconnect with this wonderful group: I’ve known violinists Muneko Otani and Jennifer Leshnower since 1997, when the quartet premiered Furies and Muses at the Swannanoa Festival.
Constantine and I go back quite a ways: he was one of the factors that enabled me to survive my adolescence. We split our high school years between goofing off and waxing profound on musical matters. Since then, Constantine has had quite a career as an in-demand maestro — Music Director of the Queens Symphony Orchestra and Chatham Opera, and guest conducting all over the map. Though I can’t make it to south Florida to hear his performance this weekend, it tickles me not a little to think of my old pal leading an orchestra through my swirling 16th-notes.
A week ago today, I spoke about my music at the Blair School of Music, as a part of their Nightcap series. At the conclusion of my talk, the audience had great questions, and then we listened to the Atlantic Ensemble play four works.
Though I spoke of a number of concerns, the central topic of my talk was the set of string quartets I am presently completing. Here’s is an excerpt:
…At the very end of his novel Invisible Cities, Calvino says “we are living in hell, and we have two choices: we can become a part of the hell around us, or we can find those things around us that are not hell, and give them a form that will allow them to endure.” I love this image, this idea that no matter how bad things get, there is a certain nobility in finding the good things and passing them on. It sparked in me a desire to explore traditional, Classical forms in a really detailed manner, to figure out what makes these forms effective or not effective for us today, what they can tell us about ourselves.
I set myself the task of writing six string quartets, each one focusing on a specific traditional form. That was back in 1998, fifteen years ago, and I’ve been working on this idea steadily since – I’m currently on the sixth and final quartet of the cycle.
One of the fascinating things about art is the way it connects the personal and the cultural, the world of experience and the world of imagination. As I look back on the fifteen years I’ve devoted to these quartets, it is clear that while I thought I was exploring traditional forms as intellectual constructs, I was also responding in a very personal and even broadly cultural way to these forms.
The first quartet focused on scherzo, which is a form that is closely associated with humor in music. The piece is in four movements: three scherzos followed by a nocturne. I wanted to use the Classical concept of scherzo as a means to explore a personal and cultural concern I had at the time, the late 1990s. I felt that I was using humor – and we as a society were using humor, frivolity – as a way of distancing ourselves from real engagement, and that though this was a comfortable stance, it wasn’t necessarily a good one.
A few years later, I wrote my second quartet, zooming in on the concept of fugue. The word fugue means, literally, flight, so I created a quartet of six fugues dealing with different aspects of flight. I was working on this piece at the same time as I was fulfilling a commission to commemorate the centennial of the first flight of the Wright Brothers, so I very much had the exhilaration of flight on my mind, this astonishing idea that humans could fantasize about the ability to fly for thousands of years – and then actually make it happen. That’s an incredibly capacity we have as a species. But this was also in the immediate wake of the September 11 attacks, so the concept of flight was also very terrifying – it was a time when it felt like boarding a plane could never be the same. The resulting piece confronts these conflicting feelings, all through the musical device of fugue.
Flash forward a couple more years, and I was ready to take on my third quartet, in which I had decided to tackle the tradition of aria. In contrast to where I was when I wrote the first quartet, I found I was unable to detach myself from that tradition, I was unable to attain any ironic distance, and instead I wrote a passionate, unapologetically romantic quartet in aria form. Again, in retrospect, it’s clear where I was coming from: I was a newlywed, and like many newlyweds I was swept up in the power of love, I was finding it very difficult to think objectively. Critic Alex Ross called the piece “unlawfully lush,” and I have to agree. In a sense, the third quartet is the least self-aware, self-conscious – and, again, that is appropriate: like most species, we humans tend to become very narrowly focused during mating season.
My fourth and fifth quartets were composed simultaneously, the fourth focusing on rondo form and the fifth on the idea of variations. Once again, what started out as explorations of tradition ended up as expressions of extramusical concerns, almost in spite of my intentions. You see, shortly after my third quartet, my wife and I had our first child, and then our second a couple of years later. The world I was living in at the time of the fourth and fifth quartets was aswarm in toddlerhood, and my music could hardly be expected to escape that influence. The fourth quartet ended up being a very joyous, playful piece. The fifth is an ode to anxiety and sleep deprivation. Those of you who have had small children will be familiar with those two poles of experience: exhilaration and exhaustion.
As I said, I’m currently working on quartet number six, in which my intention is to explore the traditional concept of fantasy. I’m deep in the process of creating it and it’s fair to say that at this point I have no idea where it is going to take me. But this again is one of the great beauties of art: we don’t tell it where to take us, we release ourselves into its custody…
I mentioned a month ago my appearance on the Composers Now Festival courtesy of the American Composers Alliance, now I have the proof: post-concert pics and video, courtesy of the intrepid Gina Genova of ACA.