"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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Monday, August 04, 2008

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 wonít 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 Iím 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 didnít 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 Ė theyíll 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 Iím expected to write one. Though it seems counterintuitive, it helps me work faster -- and it definitely helps me clarify the goals of each piece.