"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.
Here’s a shout out to the New Music Ensemble of Florida State University, directed by Clifton Callender, which will be performing Sparkling in the Dark tomorrow at 8:30 pm. Look for Javier Rodriguez and Matthew Gelband to bring it home. Hope everything goes well, guys!
Had a fun chat with an old friend, a mezzo-soprano who runs a chamber series in Austin. She told me about learning a new work by one of the most prominent members of our composer community and visiting him to get a coaching. When she sang through the piece, he told her to forget everything she had learned about diction and use a more natural, “American” approach to singing, for which he held up Doris Day as a model. He said his students all want the voices they write for amplified, and he tells them that they don’t want amplification, they want the natural diction exemplified by, again, Doris Day.
She went to work on her approach to diction, using Doris as a model. When she got up in front of the ensemble, though, she ran into problems. Turned out her revised diction was making it difficult for her to project over the instruments.
Which brings me to a question: has anyone ever heard Doris Day sing without a microphone? I’ve only heard her in the movies, where the balances were carefully calibrated in a studio setting. I honestly can’t imagine her singing in front of any size ensemble without a plugged-in boost. Could my esteemed colleague really have been that unaware? Or was something lost in the translation of this story?
It all brings me back to a contention I think is undeniable: this continent does not have an influential tradition of live, acoustic singing that characterizes the music from elsewhere. Sure, Native Americans and others have long-standing traditions, but they have been deeply marginalized by the culture at large. The sound many of us associate with traditional American singing was created in recording studios, and mimicked with varying success in live performance via amplification.
For a lot of American composers, called upon to reflect and direct the musical culture, this situation puts us in a bind. The sound we often imagine as true to our heritage is simply not available in a live setting. For some composers, this is a minor issue. For the rest of us, it seems necessary to either learn the intricacies of vocal amplification or to become tight with someone who has, someone we can trust to understand our yearnings and pleadings.
Our last senior recital of the year is coming up this Sunday afternoon, and it looks like a doozy. Alicia Willard, in addition to being an excellent pianist and percussionist, is showcasing her compositions for us. Alicia has been a wonderful student over the last four years, and her music comfortably traverses a broad range of expression, from cozily intimate to delightfully demented. A persistent theme throughout her work is the intersection of music and poetry, sometimes as song, more often as artistic commentary, a conversation between music and word that transcends performance. This Sunday’s program features a percussion ensemble piece called Spool (a nifty reverse on another composition called Loops), a mixed quintet called February, Nine Impressions for violin and piano, Periwinkle for mezzo and piano, and a final, rather terrifying piece for piano and percussion called Ballad of the Ill. She’s lined up an impressive group of performers (including herself) to champion her work – should be a wonderful afternoon.
We’re in the middle of a mini-festival of music combining acoustic instruments and technology. We got started on Friday with a seminar led by my colleague Michael Rothkopf on some of the cutting-edge work he has done in this arena. Tomorrow night we’ll have a concert called “New Sounds, Innovation and Virtuosity,” featuring music by Rothkopf and guest composer (and old friend) Robert Yekovich, who is currently Dean of the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University. Shepherd is sending us bassist Timothy Pitts, and pianist Aleck Karis and clarinetist Allen Blustine will be joining us from Speculum Musicae.
On Wednesday, Yekovich will lead a seminar on his work. It will be great to catch up with him – our opportunities have been few and far between over the past decade or so.
“Were I to choose an auspicious image for the new millennium, I would choose this one: The sudden agile leap of the poet-philosopher who raises himself above the weight of the world, showing that with all his gravity he has the secret of lightness, and that what many consider to be the vitality of the times–noisy, aggressive, revving and roaring–belongs to the realm of death, like a cemetery for rusty, old cars.”
Sometime in the early 90s I became addicted to fast tempos. Fast tempos allowed me to revel in rhythmic detail without resorting to fussy notation. They also generated an energy level that seemed in keeping with the speed of life around me.
As soon as I noticed my growing addiction, I began finding ways to subvert it, looking for a balance of expression that reflected the balance of forces around me and within me. By the end of the century, I felt comfortable writing with an enormous range of metronome markings, each of which had a multiplicity of meanings in my expressive lexicon.
When I had Bernard Rands here as a guest about ten years ago, I was surprised to find that all of his tempos are multiples of 12, as in 48, 60, 72, 84, 96, etc. It seemed both randomly limited and oddly liberating. More precise indications, eg quarter = 71.3, are fine in the studio, but music written for live performance asks for a bit of flexibility to take into account variance in acoustics, instruments, personal temperaments. Rands’s approach allowed him that flexibility, while giving him clearly distinguishable increments to choose from.
More recently, I’ve begun to notice something new coming from my students. The fast tempos I was enamored with twenty years ago are their moderatos. Twentyish composers think nothing of metronome markings of 200+. It makes sense, given the music and technology they grew up with, so I find myself torn between urging them to broaden their vocabularies and encouraging them to leap ever farther off the deep end.
Usually, I push them both ways. Funny how often that works.
First up, a lively edit of a lively live performance of my anti-social media duo Poke by Low and Lower, shot at U of Alaska Fairbanks:
Number two, the premiere of Multiplicity with a half-dozen of the finest from Colburn:
And finally, my debut on Italian television last week, with an RAI feature on Terranean Meditation, played by the Quartetto Sassofoni d’Accademia. There’s eleven-and-a-half minutes of news before the music segment gets rolling (hint, hint):