Posts Tagged “contemporary classical”

Next week, the Emerson Quartet will give the fourth and fifth performances of my fifth string quartet. The third performance took place in April, which gave me the luxury of having close to six months to make some adjustments.  Have I mentioned how much I love revising?  Of course I have.  I’ll grab every opportunity I can get to make sure every moment in a piece sparkles, and every sparkle illuminates the overall design.  Who cares if I leave a messy chronology behind for musicologists?  Those kinds of concerns are a waste of brain cells.  All I care about is the composition – it has to be as good as I can make it.

I spent the second half of June buffing up the piece, keeping careful track of every little change.  Then I printed up a new set of scores and parts, and created four cheat sheets listing all the adjustments.  I mailed the rather unwieldy package to Eugene Drucker in early July.

Every chamber ensemble has its own personality, and every musician handles the materials of performance a little bit differently.  Lawrence Dutton, the violist, is replacing his old part with the new one I sent.  The violinists – Drucker and Philip Setzer – incorporated the changes into their old parts, so they wouldn’t have to recopy all the rehearsal markings they put into the new part.  (these markings include fingerings, bowings, cues, etc – the result of a multitude of decisions made by the performers as they learn a new piece).  Philip cut and pasted some of the new part into the old. Last I heard, David Finckel hadn’t yet decided which part to use.  That’s not too surprising: with all the things he is doing, it’s amazing he has time to get dressed in the morning.

Come to think of it, I may have a time-saving suggestion for him:  David, it might be a good idea to start sleeping and showering in your tux.

Be that as it may, the list of changes I sent them in July looked like this:

LIST OF REVISIONS (aside from adjustments we made in rehearsal (metronome markings, etc.) which also have been added to the score and parts):

I. Theme and Variations

  • Mm 5, 7, 9, 11, 14, 16, 18, 21 – 16ths added to Vn II
  • Mm 30 is now 5/4, with a B added in Vla.
  • 173-4 – new stuff in Vns

II. Chaconne

  • no changes

III. Passacaglia

  • Mm 72-79 transition CUT
  • What was 114-118 (now 106-9) is changed in the Vns, with added Vla

IV. Fantasy Variations

  • 42-69 (Shadows) expressive shaping and articulation
  • 71-90 (Pastorale) revisions in Vc
  • 77 not in 4/4; Vns revised
  • 127&135 new notes in vla and vc
  • 138 vn slurring change
  • 144 revised in all parts
  • 157-8 changed to 4/8
  • 170&177 new notes in vla and vc
  • 180 vn slurring change; Eb removed from vc.
  • 195-7 Vc octaves reversed
  • 226, 228, 230 – 16ths added to Vc

Performers who have worked with me frequently are used to these kinds of picayune adjustments.  Nothing too major, but just enough to warrant a new printing.  I don’t know if the Emerson guys have this happen to them on a regular basis.  I can imagine them next week circling me in a collective throat throttle.  I appreciate how precious their rehearsal time is, so having to set aside time to learn completely new music they hadn’t planned on can’t be too thrilling.

But the truth is I’ve worked with them enough to know they’ve seen it all, and I’m sure they will be more than gracious.  Honestly, I’ve not had a more satisfying collaboration with an ensemble, and I’ve had many great ones.   I’m looking forward to sitting pretty once again, smiling as another of my crazy little compositions gets the hell played out of it.

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What do insects and paper airplanes have to do with chamber music?  Probably a lot more than I realize, since it seems like music has something to do with just about everything.  But as of this week, they are more intimately connected than ever before.

Bridge Records has just released Insects and Paper Airplanes, an album comprised of three of my string quartets and a piano quartet.  The performers are the incomparable Daedalus String Quartet and pianist Benjamin Hochman.

How new is it?  So new, I haven’t even received my copy yet.  But you can get yours just about anywhere your fingers can tap into a web connection.

The title Insects and Paper Airplanes comes from the second movement of String Quartet No. 2: Flight. Like the other five movements in my second quartet, it’s a fugue.  Like the other five movements in my second quartet, it’s about flight.  Like the fourth movement in my second quartet, it’s a scherzo, and that’s where the title comes in.  Insects is a scherzo and Paper Airplanes is a contrasting trio section.  Insects features fast buzzing music and Paper Airplanes is all doomed, harebrained swoops.

So, a fugue-scherzo-flying thingy about bugs and toys.  That about sums up the second movement of my second quartet.

And it says a lot about the nature of the music contained on this disk.  Insects and paper airplanes belong together the way fugues and scherzos belong together, the way the past and the present belong together, the way vastly different cultures belong together – because, to quote the guy I’ve been hanging out with for a number of years, “there are no two points so distant from one another that they cannot be connected by a single straight line – or an infinite number of curves.”

The question is not whether they belong together – they are together whether they belong or not.   The real questions are: how can we help them thrive in one another’s presence? And how do we keep them from destroying one another?

These are questions worth devoting a lifetime to.

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