Archive for February, 2013

If you are in the WGBH broadcast arc, tune in tomorrow afternoon at 4:00 for Drive Time Live.  Low and Lower will be performing their stand-up-and-sit-down routine, including a performance of Poke.  You can also catch their show on Saturday or Sunday, if you find yourself in Kittery or Piper Shores, Maine.  I’d link you to the details…if I could find them myself.

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Samuel Adler is coming to town this Wednesday.  Master class, lunch with the students, then a handful of private lessons.

It will be great to see him again.  I love spending time with people whose achievements and work ethic put me to shame.



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I’ve been working on a septet (horn, strings piano) for the Seattle Chamber Music Society.  In November I was contacted by composer Jeremy Jolley asking if I had any models for the instrumentation of my piece that he could share with the commissioning club at their first salon, in which he was going to initiate discussion of my work.

First of all, how lovely to be asked such a question by interested parties.  It’s always wonderful to encounter people who want to delve into a brand new composition to this degree.

Unfortunately, though, while there may be other septets for horn, piano and strings out there already, I don’t know any, so I wasn’t using any models in creating mine.  So how best to express appreciation for a question that one can’t answer?  My response was to dash off the following haiku:

Jeremy Jolley
has asked what models I used
to write my septet.

My septet is called 

.  It does not
have antecedents.

Rather, I believed
the right sound would come from my

I could be wrong, though.
This piece may turn out to be
some kind of fresh Hell.

If that is the case
I owe everyone involved
an apology.

But actually
I think that Sanctuary
may turn out just fine.

In which case I will
happily offer you all
sincere gratitude.

How did Mr. Jolley and the commissioning club feel about my non-answer?  Not sure, because I had no response.  Perhaps when I arrive for the third salon in May I will be greeted with spitballs, or even tomatoes.  Probably no less than I deserve.

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As I noted last time, my students have an orchestra concert tomorrow.  I’ve been enjoying the rehearsals, but tomorrow will be the real payday.  Meanwhile, another student (Nicholas Rich) is in Columbus, OH, where he has the honor of having a piece called Big Circles on the SCI National Conference program tonight – not the student conference, mind you, but the one featuring seasoned pros.

Monday I’ll be at Symphony Space for the NY premiere of What Happened, a piano quartet, courtesy of 20>>21, as part of the Composers Now! Festival (actually, I’ve seen the name of this festival given with an exclamation point, a colon and nothing at all).  I feel honored to have not one but two works on this festival — I neglected to mention that the premiere of Seven Stories last week was part of the same festival.  I’m eager to find out how this ensemble pronounces its name, and exactly what kind of emphasis to give the punctuation in the festival title.

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Yesterday the UNCSA Symphony began rehearsing a program of three student compositions for performance this weekend.  Twelve hours of rehearsal over the course of six days, then concert.  Just by chance, the three, brand-new works create the most traditional of orchestral program orders: an overture followed by a concerto, concluding with a colorful showcase.

Dak Van Vranken – Overture: This Hope
Bruce Tippette – Intrigue for alto saxophone and orchestra
Kenneth Florence – West

Also, sometime this week – not sure when – my friend Jacqui Carrasco will be playing a few of my Fifteen Minutes at Wake Forest University.  Tick, tick.

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The premiere of Seven Stories was a great pleasure for me, but also a great relief.  I had begun to believe the piece was cursed.

The composition process, for one thing, was a good deal more twisted than customary.  I began working up the concept in the summer of 2010.  After about six months, I had the whole thing pretty much completed.  At that point, though, I realized there was a fundamental flaw with the tone of the piece, so I started over.  Six months later, I had finished the reconceived version.

About that time, I began collaborating with a filmmaker friend to create a backdrop for the piece that would help illuminate and articulate the form.  Another filmmaker began working on a documentary about our collaboration.  Watching both of these visions unfold was fascinating – filmmaking, like music, is one of those things that non-practitioners usually know something about, but seeing a couple of pros – and I should say “artists” — in action was a quick lesson in how much more is involved than meets the eye.

Unfortunately, though we got some very promising footage, after a few months of work we all had to acknowledge that we didn’t have enough to make it happen in a way that would be completely satisfying for any of us.  End of backdrop, end of documentary.

And that’s where the performance problems jumped in.  A few weeks before the scheduled premiere in Galapagos last October, we learned that Galapagos’ management had changed and there was no record of our booking.  Ransom Wilson did a wild, last-minute dance in search of an alternative before arriving at a date in November at DROM.  We thought all was well, but – surprise — Sandy made sure not much was happening in lower Manhattan in early November, and Ransom had to scramble for yet another option.

He came up with our February date, but about the time Sandy hit I realized another flaw in the conception of the piece – I was trying to create a work on my own in a format that really calls for a collaboration of experts in various fields.  Successful theatrical works are the products of many minds: writers, directors, designers, actors.  I had a vision of Seven Stories that I believed could work without all of those contributions.  Ultimately, though, I had to come to terms with the fact that – in my desire to see the work produced sooner rather than later – I was shortchanging the concept.

Once again, the answer was to start over, and I wrote the piece, in effect, for the third time in a year and a half.  This time, though, instead of taking me six months, the whole thing took about six weeks, which I suppose shows the benefit of practice.  Now the piece was just a musical composition, with zero theatrical elements.

No sooner was this third version of Seven Stories completed – about a month ago — than the soprano had to back out because of other obligations.  Fortunately, Ransom was able to work his last-minute magic once again, pulling the amazing Mary Mackenzie on board.

Given all of this bouncing around, I would hardly have been surprised if we had been hit with a blizzard on Wednesday.  Flakes came, but fortunately in manageable quantities, and the show went on.

And what a show: Seven Stories was in great company with fabulous works by Thomas Adès, Matt Marks and Eric Nathan.  To be honest, when I learned about Ransom’s concept of the program – Toy Stories – I had my doubts.  But the concept turned out to be just on the other side of insane – the side we call “brilliant.”


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Tomorrow I’m off to NY for rehearsals and premiere of Seven Stories (Wed).  Here’s a taste of the text – parts one and two:

  1. Gravity

In hindsight, it probably wasn’t the best idea to leave me sitting on the windowsill, but we haven’t known one another for very long, and indeed, neither of us has known anything for very long, so we shouldn’t put too much emphasis on hindsight.  I suppose hindsight is not very useful in my situation anyway, tumbling over and over from your window.  What was it?  An unnoticed elbow brushing my foot, the barest breeze, and I’m hurtling down, down.

But I really shouldn’t call it hurtling, should I?  I seem to be moving too slowly to call it hurtling.  Hurtling.  Somehow that word sounds too much like something painful, whereas I seem to be moving very gradually, as if resisting gravity’s pull rather than succumbing to it.  It’s a pleasurable feeling, like playing with a friend.  That’s what it is: gravity is a friend who is pulling me, I am resisting, I am teasing my friend.  I turn away, turn away from gravity, and I see so much I have never seen before.

2. Not sleeping

Look, here is a window, and the curtains are open, and a young woman is sleeping on a bed.  No, not sleeping, she lifts her head.  Now her head is down again on the pillow.  She is not sleeping, it is the middle of the day, and she is fully dressed.  Not sleeping. She is sprawled upon the bed, her shoes are still on, for heaven’s sake.  She cannot be sleeping.  Not sleeping, she is making sounds – she is sobbing!  Why ever would a young woman be weeping in her room in the middle of the day?  I could try to find an answer. But the window is gone now, she is gone now, perhaps I shall never know.

It isn’t necessary for me to know.  I know so little, and yet it seems too much.  Your father bought me yesterday and brought me home to you, someone to play with, and we did play, you unwrapped me and we played madly for hours, I was your friend, your favorite, you told me so, and we played wonderful games, but then you put me on the windowsill and I guess that is the last I will see of you.  But how can I know?  I can’t see into the future, I’m certainly worse at seeing into the future than I am at seeing into the past, and I’m not very good at seeing the past in any case.

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

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