A couple of months ago, I wrote about a commission from the Cassatt Quartet for a triple quartet they will premiere with high school string players. I was excited about the challenge of mixing pros and students, but it turned out to be even more challenging than I thought it would be. Let me explain.

The performance will take place in January. The high school students are supposed to begin rehearsing in September, but the Cassatts won’t join them until a week before the concert.

So, in addition to all of the inherent challenges in writing a 12-voice piece and combining different levels of expertise, I had to figure out how to make each of the three quartets coherent in and of itself, so that the students would have something they could rehearse for five months on their own.

Since I’m not a string player, I could only offer my best guess, which, if wrong, would result in a lot of wasted time for everyone. At the same time, I didn’t want to give them baby food. I wanted to make sure I was challenging them in appropriate ways.

What did I do? I ended up writing two pieces, very different from one another, each one presenting complementary challenges. Today I sent PDFs of the two pieces to the Cassatt – they’ll decide which one better suits the situation, at which point I will produce the parts and send them off to the students.

Is that crazy? Actually, I often write two pieces when I’m expected to write one. Though it seems counterintuitive, it helps me work faster — and it definitely helps me clarify the goals of each piece.

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