Archive for May, 2011

One of my regrets when I turned 50 was the fact that I hadn’t yet succeeded in taking a trip to Italy.  Kindly spirits are taking steps to erase that blot next season – more on that later.

In the meantime, Italy beckons in more ways than one.  Percorsi Musicali, the estimable blog maintained by Ettore Garzia, has given me a lovely thumbs-up here: http://ettoregarzia.blogspot.com/2011/05/lawrence-dillon.html

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I’m walking around in post-student-composer-concert mode, which means, among other things, that instead of having my current compositional projects floating through my mind, I have my students’ ideas chasing one another across the squishy folds of my brain.

Hours upon hours of rehearsal can do that to you.  Cap it off with a performance, and it’s inevitable.

It all brings to mind a comment one of our guest composers made to my students this year in his visit to our seminar.  He referenced various composers’ relationships with their youthful works, coming to the conclusion that student pieces don’t last, and they shouldn’t be designed to last.

He’s right, of course.  Student work should be focused on learning objectives, trying new things, broadening horizons.   Plenty of time later to focus on creating works of lasting value.  The way I often put it to my students is: Don’t think for a minute that Beethoven’s first symphony (which we tend to regard as his least characteristic) was his first piece for orchestra.  It was the culmination of years of practice in writing for large ensemble.*

More often than not, though, I let students pursue their masterpiece dreams.  There is a wonderful energy in these youthful efforts that can only be channeled so much before it becomes compromised.   Sure, they may reject the results 10-20 years down the line.  But they have a right to fly high in the meantime.

*As Milton Babbitt pointed out, this is one of the things that makes the Symphonie Fantastique so extraordinary: it was truly Berlioz’s second piece for orchestra, and it revolutionized orchestration.

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STUDENT COMPOSERS CONCERT
WATSON HALL

7:30 pm
Wednesday 18 May 2011

PROGRAM

Alicia Willard: Time, twisting

Michael Dwinell, conductor
Steven Banks, alto saxophone
Milan Jeremic, flute, Kelsey Maiorano, oboe, Charlton Holt, clarinet
Thomas Linger, bassoon
Rachael Fellows, Kevin Murphy, Eloise Jos, Nicholas Collins, violin
William Bice, Mindy Parker, viola
Haley Krajewski, Yebon Go, cello
John McKeever, bass
Scott O’Toole, marimba

Noah Ferguson:  Second City Wind

Anna Conigliari, flute, Kelsey Maiorano, oboe
Kristina Meanley, clarinet, Allen Hamrick, bassoon

Nicchi Rozsa: Variations

Caroline Rohm, flute
Allison Bates, clarinet
Terris Roberts, violin
Sean Mulligan, viola
Nick Gerald, cello

Ted Oliver:  To the Stars

Caroline Rohm, flute
Alison Bates, clarinet
Ronald Long, violin
Anders Janson, viola
Haley Krajewski, cello

-INTERMISSION-

Zachary Elio:  Lullabye

Michael Dwinell, conductor
Timothy Passetto, baritone
Calen Gayle, flute, Kelsey Maiorano, oboe,
Alejandro Briceno, english horn
Charlton Holt, clarinet, Thomas Linger, bassoon
Rachyl Duffy, viola 1, Elias Latto, viola 2
William Bice, viola 3
Hsin-I Huang, piano, Ian McVoy, harp

Max Witt: Piano Trio

Kaitlin Moreno, violin
Nicholas Gerald, cello
Hsin-I Huang, piano

Alex Lau:  Beyond the Oasis

Kyung Yoo, violin, Jasmine Hayes, viola,
Haley Krajewski, cello, Robert Widlowski, bass

Michael Anderson:  String Quartet No. 1

Rachel Fellows, Terris Roberts, violin
Elias Latto, viola
Yebon Go, cello

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Fifteen Minutes is a set of sixteen miniatures for solo violin.  The twelfth miniature is called Dissonance.  It enlists an assistant to play in unison with the violin on kazoo.

Dissonances, traditionally speaking, are intervals that produce conflicting overtones.  In this piece, since the instruments are in unison until the very end, the dissonance is not intervallic, but rather timbral and cognitive.

Danielle Belén performed Fifteen Minutes in recital last Saturday, and her husband, Ryan Vaughn, made his kazoo debut.  He’s posted a video of his splendid performance here:

dissonance

Couldn’t be more delighted than to see a loving relationship expressed through a mild dose of Dissonance.

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Like many others, I am producing enough music that the need to back up files on a regular basis is an ongoing issue.  I bought my most recent backup hard drive two years ago.  The other day, as I was trying to back up files from a newish MacBook Pro, I discovered that the connecting cable for my hard drive isn’t compatible with the ports on the new Mac.

Though I am not a latest gadget freak, I do really appreciate all the creativity and imagination that goes into designing the ever more sophisticated devices that enhance my life.

But just once it would be nice if all that imagination and creativity could be put in service of a device that could be functional for more than two years – especially a device whose purpose is to preserve things for the future.

What’s next?  How long can it be before PDFs are no longer readable by current hardware, necessitating the translation of millions of scores into a new format?

When it happens, I’ll be here laughing at myself and my dependent ways.

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We had a mini-marathon of Berio Sequenzas here last Saturday night, beginning with his groundbreaking first for flute (1958) to his chilling last for cello (2002).

As readers of Sequenza21 know, Luciano Berio’s Sequenzas are pieces that expand the boundaries of solo instruments, stretching their virtuosic capacities and exploring their acoustic properties.  For each composition, Berio finds a defining sound world that acts as a home base, a timbral center, if you will.  These timbral centers function in a similar way as tonal centers function in traditional music: they serve as starting points and recurring arrival points during the course of colorful journeys.

In the viola Sequenza from 1967, the home sound world is a vicious retort to the viola-joke cliché: most of the piece centers around aggressive, quadruple-stop tremolos played fff (don’t try this at home!) with glissandos from one nasty chord to the next.  It’s an assaultive work: it strikes me as an appropriate response to the new din of electronic sound by a person who grew up in an acoustic world.

The bassoon Sequenza, from 1995, delivers a very different ambience.  Through circular breathing, carefully modulated bent tones and alternate fingers, the piece serenely and incrementally glisses and glides for most of its duration.  It’s the longest of the Sequenzas: an inevitable part of the minimalist drama of the piece is watching the bassoonist slowly cross the stage in order to read the music off of eight stands.

Berio wrote Sequenza VII for oboe in 1969, but preferred the version made in 1993 for soprano saxophone.  An offstage B-natural is sustained through the piece. The saxophonist starts from this B, gradually adding more and more tones with kaleidoscopic shifts in dynamic and timbre.  Our performance featured three alto saxophonists passing the sustained tone back and forth among them.  The subtle contrast between alto and soprano put the solo part in relief without creating a timbral clash.

Sri Lankan rhythms are incorporated into Sequenza XIV (one of Berio’s last works), tapped on the body of the cello by the performer’s right hand, while the fingers of the left hand percussively bat strings down onto the fingerboard.  A haunting effect is a slowish gliss up a low string, immediately followed by a fast gliss down a high string – like a sharp richochet.  After numerous recurrences, it induces a shocked numbness, if you can imagine such a thing.

Fantastic to hear a single composer’s creative journey over the course of close to a half-century.  The intrepid performers were Tadeu Coelho, flute; Sheila Browne, viola; Taimur Sullivan, saxophone; Saxton Rose, bassoon; and Brooks Whitehouse, cello.  They gave an enthusiastic audience all it could wish for.

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I love meter.  Regular, irregular, fractioned – you name it.  Meters impose a multileveled structure to the passage of time in which moments can relate to groupings, groupings to phrases, phrases to structure.

But sometimes music likes to proceed without this kind of imposed structure, and when it does, I’m perfectly happy to show meter the door.

On my new Naxos disk, Spring passing that is a good illustration of this flexibility when it comes to meter.  The piece is for violin and marimba.  Sometimes the two instruments are metered and sometimes they read graphic notation with the passage of time indicated by evenly-placed wedges representing seconds.  And then there are passages where one instrument is metered while the other is not, in which case the unmetered instrument plays off of the metered instrument, as if responding to cues.

Here’s an excerpt from Spring passing, about 3.5 minutes worth.  One of the challenges for the performer is to switch in and out of meter without any change in expression, without indicating to the listener that the notation system has changed.  You’ll hear the musicians – Danielle Belén and Stan Muncy – rise to the challenge.  It’s a beautiful performance: they switch back and forth from metric to spatial notation, and never draw attention away from the gorgeous sounds they are making, the intertwining timbres.

spring passing excerpt

Danielle is playing a second in a series of CD release events on a recital this Saturday in Three Rivers, CA.  Info here.

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