My Cummington Story

It’s already into the 5th week of five weeks of Greenwood. I was up to my eyebrows for a week or two before the start of camp finishing a piece for this summer. Every year an orchestra piece is commissioned for the final concert (through a fund named for Nathan Gottschalk, a former conductor at the camp), and this year I was the commissionee. I didn’t do anything except my usual duties during the first week since I was finishing the piece, and during the second week since I was copying it. Fortunately by the beginning of the third week it was all finished. All that nose to the grindstone stuff (which, of course, I could have avoided had I finished the piece earlier–which somehow I just wasn’t able to do) has given me a slightly weird sense of the rate at which things have gone. It’s hard to believe that in less than a week it’ll all be over.

Over the course of the camp I’ve coached performances of the first movement of the Faure Second Piano Quintet (a favorite piece of mine), the first movement of Beethoven Op. 18, #3 (ditto), the first movement of the Mendelssohn Octet, Duel Movement for String Quartet by Philip Grange (a British friend of mine who’s a wonderful composer, and whose music everybody should know), the first movement of the Mendelssohn Op. 12 Quartet, Detour, a piece by me for ten players, and, last week, the first two movements of the Sibelius Quartet and the last movement of Harold Shapero’s String Quartet. All of that has been fun, and I think all of it has gone well.

My piece, which is called Lucky This Point (A Summer Night) is for double winds and horns, piano, crotales, glockenspiel, two tam tams, suspended cymbal, and strings, is, by my standards fairly big–about 12 ½ minutes long. The percussion has been an almost continual headache (finding a player and getting the instruments) and causes me to think on the truth of something I often tell my students: If you write for some kind of unusual instrument you’re likely to end up moving it.

Fred Cohen, the usual conductor, had to withdraw from the camp at the end of the first week owing to a family medical emergency. As it’s turned out Julian Kuerti, who is currently assistant conductor of the Boston Symphony is conducting the concert. Julian is a former Greenwood camper and counselor, who was one of the players in the piece which was my first association with Greenwood (I have been trying to remember exactly when this was–I think it was 1991). He just recently subbed for the ill James Levine who had to withdraw from Tanglewood due to medical problems (a really wonderful concert on July 13th) , and now he’s subbing for Fred Cohen at Greenwood.

So far there has been one read through and one rehearsal. By the end of the first actual rehearsal it was sounding quite a bit like I had imagined and hope that it would. There a rehearsal today with all the percussion (the stands for the tam tams wouldn’t fit into my car, so we had to do a sort of Rube Goldberg thing with stands for chairs and chains from the local hardware store (Cummington supply, should anybody every have any hardware needs in Cummington), which really began to sound awfully good. (It makes me feel as though all the trouble with the percussion was worth it). There’s one more rehearsal, so I feel very hopeful. The performance, incidentally, is on Sunday, August 3 at 3:00pm. Anybody who happens to be in the neighborhood is invited and welcomed–admission is free.