Archive for July, 2009

For anyone who is curious about releasing a recording on a major label, here is the timeline for my violin disk on Naxos:
Four days of recording sessions: February 2009
Editing and mixing completed: July 2009

Release: April 2011

That’s right – more than two years from recording sessions to release. And we were given just one week to submit our feedback on the edits.

When I asked about the delay, I found out it was because they have 680 recordings in the pipeline. Amazing how well they are able to do what they do, with such a backlog.

As I frequently tell my students, music is a sublime art form, but a preposterous profession.

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Holl amrantau’r sêr ddywedant
Ar hyd y nos
Dyma’r ffordd i fro gogoniant
Ar hyd y nos.
Golau arall yw tywyllwch
I arddangos gwir prydferthwch
Teulu’r nefoedd mewn tawelwch
Ar hyd y nos.

O mor siriol, gwena seren
Ar hyd y nos
I oleuo’i chwaer ddaearen
Ar hyd y nos.
Nos yw henaint pan ddaw cystudd
Ond i harddu dyn a’i hwyrddydd
Rhown ein golau gwan da’n gilydd
Ar hyd y nos.

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I’ve just about finished my fifth quartet, so now I’m taking a couple of weeks off from it to begin sketching Cool Night, the third installment of my Schumann Trilogy. I love doing this – getting a piece just about done, then setting it aside for a while to work on something else. When I come back to the quartet in August, I will be ruthless. Time away gives me the distance I need to make sure I haven’t become so familiar with every aspect of the piece that I’ve lost sight of the parts that don’t quite fit.

Writing Cool Night is a bit of an adventure for me. One of the characters is voiced by two people – a tenor and an actor. I’ve always known this would be the case, from when I first conceived of the Trilogy, but I was never sure why I needed a singer and an actor, or how exactly they would share the text.

Now I’m discovering how to make it happen, phrase by phrase. It’s a strange puzzle, to be sure. Just to give a sense of what I’m up against, here’s an excerpt of the text, a dialogue between Florestan and Eusebius over Robert Schumann’s deathbed:

F: When the dance concludes, I will remove my mask and reveal who I really am.

E: Who you are! You will remove one mask and find another.

F: That may be so. But the mask will come off, and then another, and another.

E: You have more masks than time.

F: Yes, I have more masks than time. But they will come off, not to reveal, but to revel in the removal. I will be verb, not noun. I will be action. I will be masks removing, one by one.

E: You will be masks removing. You will be me.

F: You? No, we are not the same. I am verb, you are noun.

E: I am noun, you are verb. But we are the same. We shed the chrysalis, only to find another.

F: And another.

E: And another. Together, we are half as much.

F: Yes, together, we are half as much. And yet, apart, we are nothing. We hear nothing in the cool night.

To make things stranger, although Cool Night is the third part of the trilogy, I’m sketching it first. Don’t know why, just seems like the right thing to do.

Of course, if it turns out to be the wrong thing to do, I can always start over. About the only thing I love more than starting a new piece is starting over.

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Composers, how much time to you spend listening to recordings of your music? I find my answer to that question fluctuates dramatically.

Sometimes, when I am feeling particularly self-critical, I can’t listen to a minute of my music without cringing. Most of the time, I don’t want to listen to older pieces because I’m too focused on what’s coming next.

But occasionally, for one reason or another, I find myself listening to the same piece or pieces over and over. I’m in that place right now, as I get the proofs for the Naxos recording of my violin music and walk around with 25 years’ worth of compositions in my ear. And I’m surprised at how pleasant it is. Life is full of anxieties, big and small – it’s nice to lose touch with the moment as my mind scans back over the decades, hearing old things from new angles, hearing different places I’ve been, different avenues explored – all preserved so magnificently by such wonderful artists.

I find myself smiling privately at the oddest moments.

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Had an interesting meeting with my boss the other day to discuss the restructuring of my position in the wake of substantial budget cuts. He offered me two options, which I can summarize as follows: pay cut or demotion.

In other words, I could have my job reclassified in a way that most people would find very impressive while taking a pay cut, or I could keep the same pay but have my responsibilities reconfigured into more of a clerical position.

I don’t blame him for offering these options – he’s doing his best to manage a tough situation – it’s just funny to me that this is my choice: worse work or worse pay. You’d assume a better job would translate into better pay. But these are not typical times.

And I’m not feeling sorry for myself, because all of us who are employed right now have to count ourselves fortunate.

So which will I choose? Right now, it’s a tossup for me. But he wants an answer asap, of course, because my answer will affect a number of other decisions he has to make.

Which way will I go? Or is there another option we haven’t thought of?

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For my post-midlife crisis, I’m growing my first beard since the 20th century. I figure if I’m going to calculate my age in dog years a more hirsute visage is called for.

So far, so good.

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Just got a question from Danielle Belén about her upcoming CD of my violin music: what order should the pieces be in?Seven pieces, composed over the course of 25 years, ranging from 3 to 17 minutes in length. Two unaccompanied, three with piano, one with viola and one with marimba.Of course, this doesn’t matter quite as much as it used to – people just don’t listen in prearranged orders so often anymore. But still, an order will exist, and as long as it exists it may as well have some intention to it.

In this case, chronological order doesn’t make much sense, since only 3 of the pieces were written between 1983 and 2005 – the other 4 are from the last three years. I’m leaning toward breaking up the tracks that will include piano, and framing the disk with two brief — but very different — miniatures:

1. Mister Blister (2006) 3:00 unaccompanied
2. Façade (1983) 7:00 with piano
3. Bacchus Chaconne (1990) 5:00 with viola
4. Sonata: Motion (2008) 17:00 with piano
5. Spring passing (1997) 8:00 with piano
6. Fifteen Minutes (2006) 16:00 unaccompanied
7. The Voice (2008) 4:00 with piano

Mister Blister is fast and furious; The Voice is moderate and contemplative.

And now I’m realizing I never blogged about The Voice, which has kind of an interesting backstory. It’s an arrangement of an aria from an opera I wrote almost ten years ago. In the opera, a soprano is being pressured to sell out her art for commercial gain. She responds by trying to explain the peculiar relationship she has with her instrument – she is the servant, rather than the master:

The Voice
Within me
Has a life of its own.
It hovers in my heart,
It shivers in my bones.

A will of its own
Within me.
A turning, trembling tone
Tearing me in two,
Piercing my vision,
My choice.

A soul of its own.

And when it’s gone,
When it’s done with me,
I am here,
I am alone:
a moist and
momentary home
for the Voice.

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There have been a number of auspicious anniversaries in the past year, Carter’s and Messiaen’s centennials being the most widely noted. But today trumps them all in my book.Today I am 350 years old.

In dog years.

That’s not so impressive by many people’s standards, but it’s a lot longer than this old dog expected to live.

I’m celebrating big time all year. In January, the Daedalus Quartet will premiere my fourth quartet at Wolf Trap. In February, the nu ensemble will premiere a work I haven’t even begun to dream up yet. In March, the Emerson Quartet will premiere my fifth quartet in Köln. In May, the Idyllwild Symphony will premiere my Schumann Trilogy in California, with followup performances by orchestras in Utah, Idaho and Ohio.

I have three disks of my music coming out this year. Naxos will issue a CD of my complete violin works played by the ultimate Sphinx, Danielle Belén. Albany has a disk of my vocal music in the works. And Bridge will release a disk containing my piano quartet and three string quartets.

But before all of that comes about, this is an appropriate occasion on which to pass along a few observations on becoming 350:

“¢ One morning I looked at my ratty socks and thought they must be older than I am. Then I realized they’re not — and I don’t look so hot either.

“¢ Stubbly jaws look better than stubbly jowls.

“¢ I used to smile at strangers in the grocery store, and sometimes they would smile back. Now I smile at them and they almost always smile back – at my kids. And I’d do the same, if I were in their sandals.

“¢ It’s amazing how quickly the passionate opinions of your youth can start sounding like the cranky whinings of old age.

Keeping that passionate crankiness to myself will be an ongoing challenge for my next semi-centennial.

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