Violinist/composer Piotr Szewczyk has an interesting project in the works. He’s commissioned a dozen or so composers to each write a one-minute piece for solo violin; he will premiere all of them as a set in the spring of 2007 at a New World Symphony Xchange concert, with a followup performance at the Spoleto Festival USA contemporary music festival.
Piotr’s project is called ViolinFutura, and yes, he has a website for it.

When Piotr asked me to take part in this project last summer, I agreed without giving it much thought. I figured a one-minute piece for solo violin would be an afternoon’s worth of work in between more substantial compositions.

The afternoon’s work, though, dragged on through weeks and months, as I came up with and discarded one idea after another — each one was either too dense to be contained in the tight limitations (one minute, one instrument) or too superficial to bother working on at all.

Then, about a month ago, I hit on a solution: rather than trying to choose just the right idea for the piece, I would use all of my ideas – and I quickly wrote sixteen one-minute pieces. I’ll be sending them off to Piotr presently, and it will be up to him to make the choice I was unable to make: picking one out of the sixteen pieces for his performance. I’ve called the set Fifteen Minutes, but my private title for it is Now It’s Your Problem.

The set of pieces is loosely centered around the theme of celebrity – thus the title, from Warhol’s statement, “In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes.” I’ve written an extra minute’s worth, with my sixteen pieces, but the last piece is more of a decomposition than a composition: annoyed that Chopin’s Minute Waltz takes a minute and a half to play, I took one beat out of each measure and turned it into a Minute March. The result is immediately recognizable, flashy, pathetic, and comically obnoxious – in fact, very much like any number of celebrities grabbing their bloated fifteen minutes worth today.

Now I’m faced with a familiar dilemma: this whole celebrity theme is real, and it makes good promotional copy, but should I really present that background information with the piece? I always have to weigh that decision on a case-by-case basis. It can be nice to clue the listener into artistic context, but the music is ultimately just music, so I have to decide if I’m just loading on more baggage than the notes should have to carry. In other words, if listeners come expecting some profound revelation about fame, it’s likely they will end up being disappointed. Instead of simply enjoying or disliking the music for its own charms, they may judge it solely on how well it illustrates a point, which is not my intention at all.

So I’ll be contemplating this problem for the next few weeks, and hopefully coming to a solution I can stand by. The music has to get to Piotr by the new year.

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