"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.
In a recent New Yorker article, Sasha Frere-Jones reported that “musicians love to use the word ‘cinematic’ when describing their music.”
Made me stop and think. I’ve known thousands of musicians in my life, and I don’t recall a single one of them using the word “cinematic” to describe their work. I can imagine a few of them using that word, possibly, in certain circumstances, but I’ve known far more who would be uncomfortable with the term, and even a few who would find it offensive.
There’s no question in my mind that Mr. Frere-Jones has heard “cinematic” used by musicians with great frequency, or he wouldn’t have made such a claim. It’s even possible he sent out a questionnaire to thousands of musicians asking them if they loved to use the word “cinematic” when describing their music, and got a unanimous response.
Well, come to think about it, probably not.
In any case, it’s yet another reminder of how enormous our little world is, how many conflicting viewpoints are held by people that outsiders might assume are all in agreement.
I’ve heard a few people use the word “cinematic” to describe my work, and it always leaves me more puzzled than enlightened — though not offended. My music sounds like music to me, not like a movie with the characters, plot, settings and dialogue stripped away. I suppose maybe there is something in the term “cinematic” I just don’t understand.
“When you come to a fork in the road…take it.” – Yogi Berra
Working on String Quartet No. 6: Rapid Eye these days. It’s the last of a cycle of six quartets, and as such it has a lot of baggage to claim. First of all, it has to function as its own entity, it has to be a piece that stands alone. At the same time, it can’t ignore the fact that there were five predecessors, all tackling similar themes, all leading to this conclusion.
Working on it got me thinking about some of the differences between life and art. In life, you choose a path, or a path is chosen for you, and you take it. As soon as you commit your first step, you can’t take it back. You can, of course, switch paths at any time, but you can’t undo the time you have spent pursuing your initial track.
In art, though, things are a bit different. Multiple paths are possible, simultaneous multiple paths can even be attractive. This is nowhere truer than in music, which sometimes seems designed for simultaneous tracks heading for different horizons.
Right now, Rapid Eye has two movements, each starting from the same musical gesture, each heading off in its own independent direction.
We can all relate to the narrator in Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken, who laments (then takes pride in) the unchosen path.
Art, though, gives us options that aren’t available in other facets of life. Through art, where there’s a fork, the cake can be both had and eaten.
Today is the first day of classes here at the UNC School of the Arts, time for people to get lost in the wrong hallways, have a few unexpected encounters, scramble into class late, and possibly learn a thing or two that will have a powerful impact on their futures.
And that’s just the teachers.
I met with my students last Friday. A little soon to say, but they seem like an imaginative and curious lot, raring to go.
As I told them, I love my summers, the chance to move my body in ways that have nothing to do with predetermined appointments and spread my mind out as far as it will take me. But around about the second week of August I start to get antsy, thinking about the coming school year, wondering what surprises my students will have in store for me in the coming year.
Just a few days after complaining that this blog has become a listing of “events, performances and accolades,” I have one of the last to report: the NC Arts Council has awarded me an Artist Fellowship, the highest honor accorded to artists in the state.
This fellowship is going to give me much-needed support as I bring the Invisible Cities String Quartet Cycle to a conclusion with String Quartet No. 6: Rapid Eye. Target for completion: January 2014.
When I first began to blog on an infinite number of curves, it indeed curved in multiple directions, covering my thoughts and observations on a variety of seemingly unrelated topics. Part of the premise was that all topics are related, even though their relationships are not always readily evident.
More and more, though, I see this blog has become something a little less distinguished, a listing of performances, events and accolades — external signposts, as opposed to thoughts. I’ve been fully aware of this shift as it has been taking place, and I have explained it away to myself through various means. And now it is time for me to own up to what has happened.
There are at least three independent strands that have influenced the shift. First, over the course of eight years, I have said a substantial portion of what I have to say. There are a few things I haven’t gotten to yet, and their times may come, but a lot of my thoughts on the subjects nearest and dearest to my heart are already out there. This is a phenomenon other bloggers have encountered and commented on. The blog as a format has reached a plateau.
Second, I am valuing my privacy more and more. That seems like a funny thing to say because I have always valued my privacy, but every passing year makes privacy feel more precious. I suppose it’s because all of my actions, tastes, interests, etc, have become much easier for strangers to gather and decipher than was the case even eight years ago. It feels, in fact, like the level of privacy I took for granted in my youth is something that would be extremely difficult to attain today, and is probably unimaginable for generations of composers active now and in the years to come.
Finally, I seem to have reached a point in my development where I am more conscious of an urge for purity of expression, as opposed to an urge to try new things. In that sense, infinite curves are not as appealing to me as a few discrete, well-placed dots. That may be a product of my age, or the result of years of compositional growth, or some other factor, I don’t know. Somehow I find the image of the retracted arms of a melanocyte appealing. Melanocytes are the skin cells that create melanin, or pigment. These cells, unlike the other 90% of our skin cells, have long arms, like an octopus, that allow them to send their pigments to the follicles our hair grows from. As we age, the tendrils of these melanocytes retract. Our hair receives less and less pigment, and is allowed to exhibit its true color, which is white. Others choose to see this development as a loss, but I’m inclined to see a gain: instead of dressing itself up with color from the outside, my hair is gradually becoming more and more comfortable just being itself.
In much the same way, I am less and less interested in dressing up my life and art in the colors that I find reaching me through the tendrils of culture. Instead, I am content with the absence of color, a turn to a more nuanced texture. It’s a shift in focus from the infinite to the infinitesimal. That’s not an attitude, a perspective, I can recommend to young composers – and it certainly is not one best suited to the blog format — but it suits me for the time being.
Sad to be missing Carol Wincenc playing Bacchanal from my flute concerto Orpheus in the Afterworld this weekend at the Gala Concert of the National Flute Association’s annual convention. If anyone out there can make it, it’s this Saturday at 8 pm at the French Quarter Marriott in New Orleans. Ransom Wilson conducts the orchestra.
I’m headed back to Seattle this weekend for the premiere of Sanctuary by the Seattle Chamber Music Society. Here’s a bit about the piece:
Domed and Steepled Solitude
Scents and Recollection
A Reliable Pulse
A peaceful refuge, a shelter, a sanctuary: all creatures require an opportunity to retreat from oppressive forces, to find respite from the burdens and demands of life. Sanctuary explores four of these havens in four movements, all connecting the world in which we live to the world we imagine.
When Mark Twain first visited New York City, he spoke of a “domed and steepled solitude, where a stranger is lonely among a million of his race.” The first movement of Sanctuary pits overwhelming clamor against quiet introspection — the initial tempo indication is Tranquillo vs. furioso – gradually subsiding into gently rolling harmonies.
Many of us have felt the seductive nature of speed (the state of motion, not the amphetamine), whether found in running shoes, in the air, in amusement park rides, on the highways. Leaving the rest of the world in a blur enables us to find, if only briefly, a sense of repose and wonder. The second movement celebrates speed in a scherzo named for the conveyance favored by Mercury, the swift messenger god of ancient Rome.
Scents and Recollection traces the path from sensory experience to memory, so lovingly described by Proust in À la recherche du temps perdu. A single note blossoms into a many-voiced aria from a bygone era, leading to the peaceful, rocking harmonies that concluded the first movement.
All life ends, but life itself endures. As we ponder our individual fates, we can’t help but seek reassurance in the consistent rhythms coursing through the vessels of our mortality. A Reliable Pulse finds refuge from darkest fears in the steady but fragile patterns of life: a beating heart, an exuberant dance.
And here is the video SCMS has posted about the piece:
I’m off to the second edition of the Charlotte New Music Festivaltomorrow, though it’s already half over. I’ll give two lectures and teach a few scads of lessons.
CNMF is the tireless work of Elizabeth Kowalski, a Charlotte-based composer with some serious organizational skills. She has created a monster out of seemingly nothing. You can read the feature article (from the Charlotte Observer) about this festival and her work on it here.
For my part, I’m happy to be chipping in with my colleagues John Allemeier, Armando Bayolo, Craig Bove, Mark Engebretson and Ronald Parks. We’ll do everything we can to make the festival proud.
This Thursday night, Broomstick will get its second performance as part of the Charlotte New Music Festival. Here’s what I wrote about the piece when it was premiered last month:
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.