We’ve just finished our Intensive Arts session – two weeks in which classes are suspended so we can focus on practice, rehearsal, performance and special seminars.

We had several activities for the Composition majors. Michael Rothkopf presided over a Dance-a-Day Workshop, pairing composers and choreographers, giving each pair the task of coming up with a new collaborative work every day for two weeks – a grueling, and ultimately resource-expanding experience.

We also had a rehearsal-recording session with our wind faculty. Flutist Tadeu Coelho, oboist John Ellis, clarinetist Igor Begelman and saxophonist Taimur Sullivan worked on four student pieces, giving feedback to the composers on notation and idiomatic writing. At the conclusion, they recorded all four works, and selected two of them, by James Stewart and Felix Ventouras, to premiere next month.

And I gave a seminar on creating works for musicians and actors. My guests were Robert Beseda and Cinny Strickland, who premiered Exit and Entrance last month.

One of the most pleasurable things I’ve found in working with actors is the type of commitment they bring to a performance. I’ve been fortunate to work with a lot of terrific musicians, who have given me many wonderful performances. But there is nothing like collaborating with people whose very existence is defined by their ability to disappear, to completely submerge their egos, into your work. These two actors asked to rehearse with me over and over during the course of the two months preceding their performance. They wanted to understand everything about the pieces they were working on. They wanted to “be” the composition, in a way that is hardly imaginable for a musician.

For their part, the actors were stunned that the musicians could sit down and immediately make beautiful music. As Beseda said, “the first rehearsal of a play is a very rudimentary thing. The whole rehearsal process is a very gradual, almost excruciating.” By contrast, good musicians can read down most anything, and the second time through is often gorgeous.

Reminds me of an interview with Edward Albee I read once. Albee’s one of the most successful playwrights of his generation, so it surprised me to learn about his envy of composers. He talked about the way composers can specify exactly how they want things to sound, as opposed to writing a line of dialogue and praying that the actor delivers it with the approximate pacing and intonation the playwright imagines. Our system of notation, though it often causes us to tear our hair out and curse our existence, is actually pretty nicely adapted to our needs, it seems.

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