"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, March 17, 2008

Last month, I wrote about starting on a new orchestra piece, and the delirium of having the music race through my head day and night. This week, I cleansed my mind somewhat by bringing the music into one of my classes, using it to show the students how I approach creating large forms from simple material. Now Iím feeling a bit saner, because Iíve put this music into ears other than my own.

When I wrote about it last month, I noted that the piece was called Memory Palace without explaining the title. A memory palace is a mnemonic device. If we wish to memorize, for example, a speech, we imagine each element of the speech residing in a different room of an architectural structure. Then we imagine ourselves walking from room to room, visualizing the various speech elements in their spatial contexts.

I had in mind for this piece a single, large movement comprised of numerous small sections, or rooms, each of which would contain a single musical idea. The ideas would accrue and evolve through the course of the piece, as the listener figuratively moves from room to room.

In order to keep this from being a simple intellectual construct, Iím engaging myself with the material on an intuitive level by treating the house I grew up in as my own memory palace Ė in other words, each section of the piece will focus on a specific room in my childhood home. I visualize each room (I havenít seen the house in twenty-five years Ė in fact, it no longer exists), each with a specific memory association. Though the listener wonít be aware, or need to be aware, of these associations, they will help me to attain a strong emotional connection to the material.

That was the plan a month ago Ė it didnít take me long to realize I was creating an enormous work for an occasion that couldnít support the scale of my idea Ė this piece needs to be completed by the end of April, and itís going to be scored for a modest orchestra: single winds, piano, strings. Given those parameters, Iíve decided to create a small-scale sketch of the piece Ė under ten minutes, just three rooms Ė because I donít want to shortchange the concept. Not sure what Iím calling it yet Ė maybe Memory Shack? In any case, if this smaller version is a success, Iíll talk with the conductor about mounting the full-scale work at a later date.