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
DROM
85 Avenue A, NYC
February 6, 2013
7:00 pm

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