"There are no two points so distant from one another that they cannot be connected by a single straight line -- and an infinite number of curves."

Composer Lawrence Dillon has produced an extensive body of work, from brief solo pieces to a full-length opera. Three disks of his music are due out in 2010 on the Bridge, Albany and Naxos labels. In the past year, he has had commissions from the Emerson String Quartet, the Cassatt String Quartet, the Mansfield Symphony, the Boise Philharmonic, the Salt Lake City Symphony, the Ravinia Festival, the Daedalus String Quartet, the Kenan Institute for the Arts, the University of Utah and the Idyllwild Symphony Orchestra.

Although he lost 50% of his hearing in a childhood illness, Dillon began composing as soon as he started piano lessons at the age of seven. In 1985, he became the youngest composer to earn a doctorate at The Juilliard School, and was shortly thereafter appointed to the Juilliard faculty. Dillon is now Composer in Residence at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, where he has served as Music Director of the Contemporary Ensemble, Assistant Dean of Performance, and Interim Dean of the School of Music. He was the Featured American Composer in the February 2006 issue of Chamber Music magazine.

Visit Lawrence Dillon's Web Site

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Midgette on Chamber Music

Anne Midgette has a nice article in the NY Times this week on the current state of chamber music. All of her insights and reportage were worth reading, but there was one coincidence I found particularly interesting: the experts she interviewed all defined chamber music by the number of performers. Only Midgette’s definition – “a few people playing music in an intimate space [italics mine]” – took the location into account. Of course, the experts had to accept their locations as given.

But location is really the crux of the matter. Any definition of “chamber music” has to start with the word “chamber,” which indicates a smaller room within a larger structure. Chamber music got its name because it was originally played in private homes for small gatherings. It was only in the late-nineteenth century that enormous auditoriums were built for thousands of listeners. The benefit, of course, was increased access, but the drawback was intimacy, which, as Midgette says in the article, is a defining feature of most successful chamber music experiences.

Midgette cites the problems of the Tuesday Musical Association, which presents chamber music in a 3000-seat hall in Akron, Ohio. She also quotes Wu Han, reporting that Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s subscriptions increased when Alice Tully Hall was closed for renovations. Those are two great examples of spaces that increased access at the expense of the music. I haven’t been to the Akron concert hall, but Tully has always felt hopelessly cavernous to me. And what is the point of giving access to thousands if you average 67% capacity?

Next March, we’re having the Emerson String Quartet play two concerts here in a cozy chamber hall that seats just under 300. Unfortunately, a lot of people who want to hear them won’t get in – there just aren’t enough seats for all the interested listeners. But I can guarantee that the ones who do get in will have an experience that’s tough to match. It certainly won’t be found in any of the enormous concert halls we’ve built in our rush to share our enthusiasms with as many people as possible.