"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.

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Thursday, July 05, 2007
Dark Circles

One of the pieces Iím working on this summer is a composition for nine instruments, about nine minutes long, thatís scheduled for a premiere in November. The scoring is odd: two flutes, baritone sax, trumpet, violin, viola, cello, bass and piano. The unusual combination came about because the piece combines the instrumentation of two other pieces Iím working on: one is for two flutes, violin, viola and cello, and the other is for saxophone, trumpet, bass and piano, each about 8 minutes long. The three pieces will all be premiered on the same concert: one to start the concert, one to conclude, and this nonet, which will come at the end of the first half.

Iíve written before about coming up with titles. I have, generally speaking, two scenarios: either I have the title before I begin working, or I come up with the title when Iím close to finishing.

(There used to be a third scenario: some titles didnít come until years after Iíd written the piece. In this third scenario, an old piece would be running through my head and Iíd suddenly understand exactly what it was about, and the title that would best convey its meaning. One of the benefits of growing older is that scenario three has just about vanished.)

This nonet is following scenario two: I began working on it about a month ago, and now that Iím coming down the home stretch, Iíve come up with a title: it will be called Dark Circles. The title seems apt for several reasons. First, the scoring, with the prominent bari sax and the double bass, is pretty dark. Second, the material keeps circling back on itself. Third, much of the music has a hallucinatory quality to it, which works well with the sleeplessness alluded to in the title Ė the dark circles found under the eyes after a night of insomnia. And finally, I like the way the title Dark Circles manages to sound both menacing and slightly comical, which is certainly true of the piece.

The fun thing about scenario two is watching musical materials gradually take shape in an anything-goes atmosphere, then suddenly seeing them coalesce into a very specific entity. When I have the title ahead of time, composing is a matter of heading toward a known destination. Scenario two is more like wandering off into the wilderness, then suddenly recognizing some familiar features that point you in a specific direction. Now that I have the title, which arrived two days ago, I can pin down all of the details with the central idea in mind, and thatís a great feeling.

But hereís the frustrating thing about titles: Listeners often put a too much stock in them, thinking they ďgetĒ the piece if theyíve understood why it has the name it has. I know that people will come up to me after the premiere and ask why I called it Dark Circles, and Iíll do my best to accommodate them with some kind of an answer, when what Iíll really want to say is, ďCan we please talk about anything besides the title?Ē