Archive for October, 2012

Over the last forty years, I’ve taken a lot of different approaches to harmonic structure in my music.  Each one has its benefits and drawbacks.

Tertian harmony has one amazing benefit that I don’t hear commented upon very often.  More than any other method of building vertical sonorities, triads allow for an astonishing variety of embellishment.

Appoggiaturi, acciaccaturi, anticipazione — and that’s just the A-list.  You can drizzle them all over a set of triads, with endless variation.  But try using them with harmonies of other design, and you run out of options pretty quickly.  A suspension on a quartal chord?  Sorry, not going to happen.  Neighbor tones around a cluster?  Well, sure, but it’s not really the same thing.

So I enjoy using all kinds of vertical vocabularies, and, as I say, each has its benefits.

Pile up the thirds, though, and you can bet I’ll be going to town with those auxiliary dissonances.

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nu rehearsing in Watson Hall

The nu ensemble, our new music band, has its first concert of the year coming Saturday.  On Friday, Saxton Rose, nu’s new music director, will pay a visit to our Composition Seminar to tell us about the group and the rep.

Here is the program.  Apparently this will be the first performance of the Cage in over seventy years:

  • Wolfgang Rihm: Will Sound (2006)
  • Giacinto Scelsi: Prânam II (1973)
  • John Cage: Dance Music for Elfrid Ide (1940)
  • Benjamin Broening: like dreams, statistics are a form of wish fulfillment (2005)
  • Caleb Burhans: oh ye of little faith…(do you know where your children are?) (2008)

Saturday, October 27, 7:30 pm
Watson Hall
UNC School of the Arts

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Just a couple of observations:

1. As far as I know (and I’m just a composer, so what do I know?), sociopolitical systems aren’t, by their nature, corrupt.  But all systems are corruptible.

No form of government – democracy, autocracy, whatever – is inherently corrupt.  No form of corporation – mom&pop, international, educational — is inherently corrupt.

Corruption occurs when people use a system – a form of government, a corporation – for personal gain at the unwilling expense of others who interact with the system.

Systems will always be vulnerable to corruption, because there will always be people who are interested in using them for personal gain at the unfair expense of others.  Societies stand to benefit when systems have outside oversight to minimize systemic corruption.  Eliminating corruption is not a reachable goal, but keeping corruption in check is.

2. Speaking of outside oversight and keeping things in check, from my little corner of the world, it appears that our government’s system of checks and balances works well on the executive and judicial branches – which is to say, the power of the executive and judicial branches to impact our society seems to be appropriately measured.  I don’t always like their actions and decisions, but the processes they go through to make those actions and decisions seem, for the most part, well designed.

But – again, from my little corner of the world – the legislative branch appears to be too cumbersome in design to handle its responsibilities effectively.  I’m pretty sure this flaw is not fixable, because 1. the checks and balances on the legislative branch do not have the power to focus legislative activity, 2. The electorate has an easier time holding executive candidates, as opposed to legislators, accountable, and 3. the cumbersome design has a powerful incentive for self-preservation.

As a result, we limp along to the best of our ability despite the encumbrance.

Now back to the music.

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This Thursday night, violinist Jacqui Carrasco of the Forecast Ensemble will play ten selections from Fifteen Minutes, my unaccompanied serenade to celebrity.  Because of time limitations, she won’t be playing the entire work, but this piece is more excerptable than most – it’s just a set of one-minute sound-bytes.  She’s playing:

Grand Entrance
Self Absorption
Minute March

Jacqui has been a consistent force in the new-music world since the 90s.  A founding member of the Cygnus Ensemble, she’s played with the Cassatt Quartet, S.E.M., Newband, and scads of other cool groups.

Now she’s with Forecast, and the band has a nice lineup for their set at the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art.  Music by friends and colleagues in the air:

John Beck: West Side Impressions
Mark Engebretson: The Difficulties
Michael Rothkopf: At a Crossroads
Alejandro Rutty: More Music for Examining and Buying Merchandise
Eric Schwartz: My Unshaped Form

And the by-now-expected 2012 John Cage experience will make an appearance.  More here.

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image by Julian Semilian

Next month, Mellissa Hughes is joining Le Train Bleu in the premiere of a new work of mine for soprano and eight instruments at dromnyc.  The piece is called Seven Stories.  It’s about a stuffed animal that falls from the seventh floor of an apartment building.  As she falls, she glimpses figures in the passing windows and struggles to create stories from what she sees.

Like much of my work, Seven Stories both embraces and flies in the face of the current artistic zeitgeist.  I’ll be curious to see how it goes over with the dromcrowd.

More info is just a click away.  And here is the click.

The show, called Toy Stories, is a fascinating and amusing program put together by my long-time friend and colleague – and Music Director of LTR — Ransom Wilson.  In addition to my piece, he’s doing Thomas Adès Living Toys, Matt Marks Sex Objects and Eric Nathan’s Toying.

Batteries, presumably, included.

Seven Stories
World Premiere
Text and music by Lawrence Dillon
Melissa Hughes, soprano
Le Train Bleu
Ransom Wilson, music director
85 Avenue A, NYC
November 7, 2012
7:15 pm

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Been to five concerts in the last ten days.  Attending concerts this fall, I am as aware as ever of the prevalence of gray hair around me, often cited as a sign that Classical music is dying.

But wait a minute.

The average life expectancy in this country is 78.2 years.  If we assume that most of us start turning gray in our 40s, then that means that the majority of our adult lives is spent with gray hair.

And if that’s the case, then the music that attracts the most gray-haired listeners must be the most successful.

I’m just saying.

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Class trip time.  Tonight we are off to what I understand is the second performance of David Lang’s Love Fail, an hour-long meditation on love, as it is experienced vs. how it is memorialized.  The text is a fascinating amalgam of various tellings of the Tristan story crossed with writings of contemporary author Lydia Davis.  Can’t wait to hear it. Given the fact that the piece was written for, and will be performed by, Anonymous Four, it sounds like a perfect recipe for David Lang in his attractive, neo-Medieval mode.

Here’s a vimeo about the piece, featuring Lang and an onymous one:

Love Fail from International Festival of Arts & on Vimeo.

First performance seems to have taken place in New Haven in June; I’d be curious to know if the four-month hiatus before outing number two was an opportunity for performers and composer to tweak and refine.  Tweaking and refining are two of my favorite things to do, but not everybody agrees.

Nice class trip if you can get it: board the bus, fifteen minutes later we’ll arrive at the venue.  Many thanks to the Secrest Artist Series for co-commissioning the piece and hosting the performance, and to the Kenan Institute for the Arts for taking all of us for a ride.

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