Archive for January, 2013

Fun times around here.  Tonight I’m going to hear Forecast Music’s Moonstruck show at the Community Arts Cafe – a program matching excerpts from Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire with new works by Aaron Gervais, Kenneth Frazelle, Mark Engebretson, and Eric Schwartz.  Saturday night I’ll hear the Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet in a piece by Finnish composer Kalevi Aho.  But I’m really here to tell you about the Toy Stories show next Wednesday night at DROM in NYC.  Ransom Wilson will lead Le Train Bleu in music by Thomas Adès, Matt Marks, Eric Nathan and me.   The great ticket deal for there is here.


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Student composers concert on Tuesday night, featuring the nu ensemble.  Rehearsals and other logistics unfolding at a fast clip.  Eight pieces: a trio, 2 quartets, 3 quintets, an octet and a piano concerto.  Read all about it here.


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Bouncing around rehearsals and coachings for my students’ annual bash next week, but I want to drop a quick note about the upcoming Jubilus Festival – five nights, five locations, five concerts – about to take over north-central Florida.  The headline ensemble is the Post-Haste Duo, and their opening-night concert is opening with my Sparkling in the Dark.  PH has posted a recording of the piece on their sound cloud here.  But if you want to hear their live version, head over to the Harn Museum of Art in Gainesville this Tuesday night.  That way you’ll get more than just me, you’ll get Nansi Carroll, Lanier Sammons, Peter V. Swendson, Simon Hutchinson and some guy named J.S. Bach.

Same night, different latitude: Exeter, New Hampshire gets a dose of Poke, courtesy of Low and Lower.  Gilbert Concert Series, 7:00 pm.  Not sure what else is on the program, but I wish I could be there, or Florida.  But lucky me, I’m here for a cool concert of music by our composition students that night.  Feeling very fortunate to have too many good options.

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Time for me to give a shout-out to string players high and low for events coming up on Tuesday night.

First low, as in Low and Lower, the duo that did so much to put me on the YouTube mapThey will be premiering a composition by my student Bruce Tippette entitled New Birth this Tuesday night at the UNC School of the Arts.  Bruce just became a daddy this past fall, which may have had some impact on the character of the piece and his choice of title.  In any case, it promises to be one of the few straightforward moments on the program, in which the antic duo will also perform a “global warming rendition of Flanders and Swan’s Song of the Weather, a pattered apology to Gilbert and Sullivan and a gift bag of surprises.”  Check out the trailer here.

On the same night, Bowing Rogue, comprised of members of the Milwaukee Symphony, will be giving the Wisconsin premiere of my Multiplicity for six violins.  Here’s where you will find them:  bowing rogue

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image by Julian Semilian

The premiere of Seven Stories is coming up in a few weeks (via Le train bleu, Feb. 6, NYC to be exact) and I just realized that though I’ve written about it frequently over the past year or two (here, here, here, here and here) I’ve focused mostly on the text and said very little about the music.

Today I’m going to reverse that.  Here’s very little about the text, then more about the music:

In The Divine Comedy, Dante ascends seven stories of purgatory to reach paradise.  I’ve written a piece about a stuffed animal that falls seven stories from an apartment window.  As she plummets in slow-mo past seven windows, she peers in at the occupants and struggles to make sense of what she sees.

The text presents a challenge that music seems particularly well-suited to surmounting, namely: how to convey two simultaneous but different senses of the passage of time — part free-falling, part floating.   I’m foregrounding the familiar experience of being in a perilous situation, when time seems to slow down and details we wouldn’t otherwise notice get suspended, frozen.  And I’m trying to prolong that experience for about twenty minutes.   Meanwhile, I have to coherently communicate about 1800 words of text (fortunately, I have the superb soprano Mary Mackenzie shouldering her share of that burden).

I ended up with a musical world that establishes and maintains a specific balance between action and stillness, treble and bass, repetition and development, textures rich and spare.  There are a number of passages in which I was attempting to create aural illusions, using simultaneously rising and falling patterns with a constant shift in pre-eminence.

Composers often shy away from discussing emotional content, for good reason – it’s too easy to fall into misleading generalizations about aspects of music that are personal and subjective.  But I’m a man whose folly can sometimes pretend to be courage, and I’ve certainly never been accused of having good taste, so I’ll plunge in.  Having put the narrator of Seven Stories in a hopeless situation – a downward plunge to the pavement — it was critical to me to avoid even a hint of self-pity, to create a journey that the narrator would embrace with a sense of wonder, as opposed to fear. This narrator is, after all, a stuffed animal, a creature designed for play.  That emotional scenario – wide-eyed innocence in the face of doom — called forth another specific balance:  orbiting musical gestures with bright centers and dark edges.  I put a lot of thought – rational and intuitive – into that balance.  I’m curious to see how well it comes across at the premiere.

Here’s how I’ll find out:

Seven Stories
World Premiere
Text and music by Lawrence Dillon
Mary Mackenzie, soprano
Le Train Bleu
Ransom Wilson, music director
85 Avenue A, NYC
February 6, 2013
7:00 pm

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Teaching composition involves tightening a lot of nuts and bolts: technical chops, notational know-how, professional presentation.  But music is first and foremost an art form, and teaching it effectively means approaching it from a variety of perspectives, as art is a many-splendored thing.

At least once a year, I like to confront the students with a perspective completely outside of our comfort zones.  Music focuses on aural experience, so today in seminar we’re going visual. Guest Norman Coates is going to talk about his area of expertise: lighting design.

Some of our students – the ones who will go on to pursue paths intersecting with theater – will get some valuable insights into the technical challenges facing potential collaborators.  Others, though, will get something I believe is just as valuable: a curveball coming at them from an angle they haven’t considered before.

Hopefully the experience will encourage them to adjust their stances and swing with more authority.


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I had lovely holiday travels at the end of last month, but there is one event that was particularly noteworthy: I discovered a previously unknown chapter of The Divine Comedy.

Where I found it is hardly important, so I won’t waste your time describing the location.  The contents were far more interesting than the expedition.

Much of it was illegible, so I can’t really say where it falls in the sequence of the narrative, but it seems to describe a heretofore unnoticed circle of Hell, a circle comprised of thousands of cubicles, in each of which one of the damned kneels in exasperation before a blinking device that resembles the Medieval version of a Hewlett-Packard printer.  Our narrator’s guide pityingly lays out the fate of these helpless denizens: each is condemned to feed one sheet of paper at a time into the impervious machine, watch it jam in the rollers, fish it out, and replace it with a new sheet.

Dante was curious to note a number of composers among the accursed.  When he asked, he was told that each of them had completed a 100-page composition, printed 99 of the pages with little incident, and was now finding it impossible to get the final page of the piece to feed properly.

For each sheet in the course of an eternity of printer-feeding, handfuls of hair were ripped from the heads of the damned, only to be magically replaced with a fresh, bristling mane, torn away as the next sheet twisted and crumpled.  Such a weeping and gnashing of teeth!

When asked the crime of these unfortunate souls, the narrator was stopped by a single word:


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Our life expectancies are roughly seven times those of our canine friends, so it’s customary to say that dogs age seven years for each calendar year.

I’m not sure if there is an appropriate formula for the way blogs age, but as I start year eight of an infinite number of curves, it’s beginning to feel like a four-legged beast grown long in the tooth.  I’m noticing more of its memory lapses, stiff joints and general drowsiness.

I’m not sure what the average life expectancy is for a blog, but I suspect this one has outlasted many.  So I’ll ring Pavlov’s bell for another new year, and see if I can get this old hound to salivate.

Here’s what was doing in 2012:


Premiere of Poke and reprise of Child’s Play.


Poking around Alaska, a Multiplicity of LA appearances and Terranean Meditation hits Italy.




Sparkling in Florida.


This is not Paris.


Taking it.


Sparkling in the clubs.


Saturn, The Voice, The Infinite Sphere and What Happened in Tennessee.


Fifteen Minutes at SECCA.


Saturn in Kentucky, Seven Stories gets Sandy, Poke in Raleigh, Sparkling in San Diego and Eugene.


Sparkling in Ohio and North Carolina, Furies in Tallahassee.


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