I’ve not met Tony yet, but we’ve spoken a few times on the phone (actually, we’ve left one another a lot more voicemails than we’ve actually spoken). This week he gave me the tentative programs for the festival. I was surprised to find that they were considering performing Facade, a piece I wrote 23 years ago. The news brought back bittersweet memories.
Facade was premiered at a student composers concert when I was in the graduate program at Juilliard. The piece takes an 1890sish waltz — kind of a salon melody — and twists it through some increasingly irrational Straussian harmonic shifts until it completely shatters into inarticulate fragments. After a minute or two of stumbling about in confusion, it gradually reassembles itself into a fragile version of its former self.
This kind of musical surrealism wasn’t unheard of at the time, and it’s certainly become pretty commonplace since. I had no intention of creating a manifesto; I was just writing what I wanted to hear. So the reaction I got at the premiere really caught me off guard. People were angry, sarcastic, contemptuous.
A few days afterwards, a friend informed me that David Diamond was telling the students in all of his classes that they shouldn’t play my music. I made an appointment with him to find out what he was upset about. He sat with a seething grimace as I tried to explain my train of thought in the piece, saying only, “You can’t do that in music” before showing me the door.
Facade got quite a few performances in the early 1990s, but I don’t think it’s been played in almost ten years. Pulling together a perusal score to send to Tony has me looking back over it for the first time in awhile. Now, of course, I’m struck by the rudimentary instrumental writing – idiomatic enough, to be sure, but not as sensitive to the potential of the instruments as I would like to think I am now. But the piece certainly packs a nice sucker punch.
So off it goes to Ypsilanti.
David, wherever you are, rest in peace.