Archive for March, 2014

We had a fantastic session with yMusic the other night, but there’s no time to give it the appropriate gaga response, because the world keeps moving under our feet.  The next day, after a fun brunch with yMusic, the students had a practice session with Toastmaster Rebecca Nussbaum on public speaking, one of those things that often goes along with being a composer that many composers find torturous.  Tonight the UNCSA Symphony, led by James Allbritten, will give the NC premiere of my colleague Kenneth Frazelle’s Triple Concerto with violinist Kevin Lawrence, cellist Brooks Whitehouse and pianist Eric Larsen.  On Tuesday night, UNCSA guitar ensembles will premiere two works by student composers on a program mixing 16th and 21st century music:

Derek Arnold: Redarkened
Brent Lawrence: Serenade

And then things start to get really crazy.

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Hot on the heels of Saturday night’s flute ensemble premieres, tonight we have yMusic in town for a recording session.  A sextet with interesting flexibility with regards to instrumentation, yMusic presents completely different challenges from those we addressed with the flute ensemble.  Finding a personnel list online isn’t easy, so here is the lineup:

Alex Sopp: flutes
Hideaki Aomori: clarinets
CJ Camerieri: trumpet/horn
Rob Moose: violin/guitar
Nadia Sirota: viola
Clarice Jensen: cello

They will be recording the following:

Kenneth Florence: 12,000 Years
Brent Lawrence: Shared Inheritance
Laura Reynolds: Burning Bridges Feels Good (At First)
Nick Rich: Half Remembered

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This Saturday night, we have four premieres of student works for flute ensemble:  Brent Lawrence’s Orange, Green, Darkness, Nick Rich’s Lennon Variations, Cheyne Runnells’ Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing and Alexander Umfleet’s Sunder.

Creating a piece that takes advantage of the benefits and avoids the pitfalls of scoring for multiples of the same instrument is a special challenge, a little cranny in a composer’s attic that deserves its own exploration.  We put a floodlight on this particular nook, listening to several flute ensemble pieces, drafting our own compositions, then workshopping the pieces last fall with the ensemble.   After that, the composers had a few months to refine and recalibrate.

Results on the 22nd.

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“The classical author who wrote his tragedy observing a certain number of known rules is freer than the poet who writes down whatever comes into his head and is slave to other rules of which he knows nothing.”

– Raymond Queneau

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Okay, I know evolution isn’t the right word.  But I’m using it in a common enough misusage to make my point.

Composers growing up in the mid-20th century had an experience unknown to previous generations: hearing music on stations.  First radio stations; later on television.  This new experience, as I’m sure has been noted elsewhere, had a potent impact on musical postmodernism, one of the hallmarks of which is jumping from style to style in seemingly random juxtapositions, as though flipping a dial from one station to another.

The contemporary version of this experience is webbing ones way through the perpetual LOOKATME of the internet, and I think that shift is audible in the music being made now, and will probably be even more evident in the music of the next 10 to 20 years, as composers who experienced the internet in full bloom during their childhoods master the art of explaining their worlds through sound.

So the reason I’m misusing the word “evolution” is because I think the experience of flipping through stations and current online equivalents are more closely related than not: as I say, an audible shift is taking place, but I hear a fair amount of fluency from one to the other, though others may be hearing a revolution.

How can we tell for sure?  Stay tuned, as they used to say.

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I like to think of myself as a competent composer, someone who writes pieces that work in fundamentally sound ways.  But I don’t aspire to competence; some of the notions I chase after take me into unfamiliar terrain and I have to do my best to make them work as well as they can.

As a result, some of my compositions are dogs.

I am very proud of my dogs (though I withdraw them from performance when I can) because they are signs that competence is something I have worked hard to attain without making it my primary aim.  I reserve the right to compose a terrible piece in pursuit of valuable goal.  One of the reasons I became a composer is because the vastness of music forces me to be an eternal student.

I should add that I defend the right of any listener to hate any piece I write – after all, sometimes I will agree.

On the other hand, just because a piece of music turns out to be a dog doesn’t mean we have to kick it around – scratching it behind the ears is a more generous option.

On a perhaps cheerier note, three performances of my music in the definitely-not-canine category to catch this coming week, in Austin, Louisville and New York:

  • March 5: Sonata: Motion.  Tim Hagen, flute; Ben Corbin, piano.  UT Austin, Butler School of Music
  • March 8: Poke.  Low and Lower.  ASTA National Conference, Louisville KY.
  • March 10: What Happened and the NYC premiere of The Voice.  Atlantic Ensemble.  Symphony Space, NYC.

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