Archive for February, 2012

After a couple of years of good intentions, I finally found a chance to sit down for a private screening with my friend, the poet and filmmaker Julian Semilian.  An emigree from Roumania, Julian has made several reputations for himself over the last four decades.  He was a successful Hollywood film editor for 24 years.  He is one of this country’s foremost translators of Roumanian poetry, and a fascinating poet as well.  Now he devotes his time to teaching, writing and making avant-garde films.

Julian had a 36-minute film he wanted to share with me called Devotees of the Precipitate.  It tells the fantastical story of the artist that Man Ray left behind when he changed his name from Emmanuel Radnitsky to avoid persecution in pre-WWI Brooklyn.  Julian calls this artist Emuel Dnitsk (using the letters Man Ray deleted), and makes him the inventor of imaginary peintures fluides, or moving paintings.  The film realizes these floating images from notes and journals Dnitsk left in a trunk.  The entire work is a fascinating study of otherness, of abandoned identity, with gorgeous images folding one into another, all from a 1920s surrealist perspective.

After seeing this film, I think Julian and I will find some project or projects to collaborate on – and I’m guessing it won’t take a couple of years this time.

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Fun weekend coming

Today we have Eleonor Sandresky as our guest in Composition Seminar.   Eleonor comes from a family of successful female musicians – she is, I believe, the fifth generation – and she has carved out a singular space in new music as a pianist-composer.    She will be demonstrating her work for what she calls “choreographic piano” and live electronic sensor system.  Have I mentioned that I love having guests who do things that are completely different from what I do?

Hopping across the Atlantic tomorrow, the Quartetto Sassofoni d’Accademia will give the European premiere of Terranean Meditation at the Teatro Savoia in Campobasso, Italy.  If you are in the vicinity, stop by at 6:30 pm and let me know how it went.

Sunday will bring the second European performance of Terranean Meditation.  Same group, different location – this time, Sulmona, Italy.

Hop back across the Atlantic (or over Asia and the Pacific, if your itinerary allows) and you can catch the second performance of Multiplicity in Los Angeles on the same day.   (Yes, I ever so briefly considered trying it – the difference in time zones makes it just this side of impossible).  This time, Danielle Belen’s sextet moves from Thayer Hall, the scene of the premiere a few weeks ago, to Zipper Hall.  Again, if you are there, let me know how it went.

Much as I’d enjoy being in Italy or California, I’ll be here instead, focused on a different sort of celebration Sunday – the fourth birthday of my brilliant second son.  He’s filled my head with poetry this past year.  Here’s my favorite: “I know where all the days go.  They dissolve into the curvy arms of the Milky Way.”

If you gotta go, that sounds like a pretty nice destination.

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Benjamin Hochman gave a recital here on Thursday night that was as lovely an argument for substance over flash as one could wish for.  It also featured a very enjoyable balance the familiar and the unfamiliar.

Familiar: a Schubert sonata and Brahms fantasies I slapped my way through many years ago.

Unfamiliar: Bartók Eight Improvisations on Hungarian Peasant Songs and Widmann Idyll und Abgrund: Six Schubert Reminiscences.  The former pulled the handsome trick of sounding like Bartók without sounding quite like any Bartók I had ever heard before.  Completed in 1920, the Improvisations evince a familiarity with the composer’s pre-12-tone Viennese peers, especially in their aphoristic discourse and elusive cadences.  And yet, there are the Hungarian peasant tunes, exerting their modal influence over the expressionistic contours.

The Widmann took attractive Schubert figures and surrounded them with delicate clusters and brutal outbursts, alternately caressing and abusing the source material in a way that was, for this listener, captivating.  Jorg Widmann, in addition to being a composer, is apparently an accomplished clarinetist, with an uncanny grasp of the piano’s expressive capabilities.

The Bartók and the Widmann shared a sensitivity to the resonance older musics can have for later ages, as well as a nice mastery of the miniature.

Meanwhile, Hochman.  First, a disclaimer: Benjamin has recorded my piano quartet (congrats, Judy!), so he is a colleague, not a stranger.  Not that we go way back, but at least we go back as far as the beginning of this decade.  Now for the gushing: the guy is a major artist.  As I said at the top, this was substance over flash, poetry over spectacle.  The performance of the Schubert Sonata was that of a pianist giving his all for every note, yet always holding something back, a balancing act that seems particularly appropriate for Schubert.  The performance was never about timbre, but the range of colors he brought to bear on this piece, on the whole evening, was phenomenal.

So, yeah, he is a colleague – but I am also a fan.

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I’m in a real groove these days, a time when my ideas and my ability to render them are both peaking.  I’ll ride it as long as it lasts.  Who knows, next week it could all be used up.  I’m juggling five new works, and all five of them are going exceptionally well.  It’s a bit of a paradox for me, because I’m super busy with non-composing work right now, especially with guiding my students through a very intense time – this Saturday our school orchestra will premiere five new pieces of theirs:

Michael Anderson: Zombie Wars
Kenneth Florence: West
Ted Oliver: Linville Falls
Zachary Polozune: A Silhouette Slowly Dancing
Bruce Tippette: Unconquered

So we’re working our way through hours of rehearsal, with my colleague James Allbritten at the helm.  I’ve known Jamie for close to twenty years, since he was a very young man (come to think of it, my ears were dripping a bit back then, too) and I’ve always admired his attention to detail and his rehearsal skills, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised the last few years by his devotion to young composers, his willingness to devote a substantial chunk of the orchestra’s time to helping them learn how to tame, or at least not get trampled by, the large-ensemble beast.

Most music schools give their composition students brief reading sessions with the orchestra – very few devote entire orchestral concerts to student works (in fact, I don’t know of any besides ours – but I have to assume if we are doing it, someone else is).  It’s quite a wave for our composers to ride, and it’s cresting this weekend.

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Tomorrow night I get to swell up with pride while yet another gifted student produces a terrific senior recital.  This time it’s Ted Oliver, who has a beautifully varied program in store:

In the Machine for sax quartet
The Eighteenth Waking Hour
for solo guitar
for brass quintet
for electronic sound
for string quartet

Tuesday night, I get to hear my friend and colleague Oskar Espina-Ruiz premiere grad composer Michael Anderson’s Variations for solo clarinet on his Valentine’s Day recital.

Also on Tuesday night, the Post-Haste Duo will be playing my Sparkling in the Dark at the Jubilus Festival, but I can’t make it to Gainesville for the occasion.  Sorry to have to miss, but not being able to go to a concert because I have to go to a concert is certainly nothing to cry about.  Hope it goes well, guys!

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I’m a big fan of big paper.  Big screens are wonderful, but they have their limitations.  Big paper gets me more music per FOV.  Below: a fairly detailed sketch for a five-minute piece comfortably reclining on two big sheets.

I can see the whole composition at a single glance, and zero in on any detail.

I’ll put this into notation software before too long, but not before I’ve milked this perspective for all it’s worth.  I love technology, but only when it does when I want it to do — I don’t like technology when it tells me what I have to do.

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My friend Danielle Belén has lined up quite an event this coming Sunday, and no, it’s not the Super Bowl.  It’s a couple thousand miles west of Indy.

She’s organized a benefit concert for Center Stage Strings, the summer music camp she started herself a few years back.  Headlining the concert is cellist Lynn Harrell, and the featured event is the world premiere of Multiplicity, a work I composed last summer while at Wintergreen.  Here is the program note:

Multiplicities abound in our daily lives, countless duplications, each of which we strive to personalize, to distinguish with our personal touch, our page, our device, our moment.   The sheer number of individualities at times seems to swallow all distinctions into a burbling mass.  But now and again a single voice emerges, is heard and can be celebrated.  We are what each of us does; we are what all of us do.

The concert is in Thayer Hall at the Colburn School in Los Angeles at 3 pm; weather forecast is calling for a high in the mid-70s.  Wish I could be there.

I also wish I could be a couple thousand miles north of LA on Sunday for the latest performance of Poke by Low and Lower.  This one will be at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. If you find yourself that close to the Arctic Circle, check it out.  As I write this, the current temperature there is -28F.  How can you resist?

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