23 July 2012

Status Quo

Before this recent conclusion of the Kyrie, the last piece I had finished was one of the (as yet unperformed) clarinet duos (These Unlikely Events), which I completed in MS. while cavorting in Puerto Rico this past February. It's been a healthy sabbatical, and I'm enjoying the return to on the job composering.
(These Unlikely Events have not yet been performed as clarinet duos;  two of the five numbers have been performed as trios for alto flute, clarinet and harp.  Four of the five duos are complete.  More about 5 presently.)
Apart from additional detail, and the technical hurdle (not enormous, but …) of sorting out the Sibelius score, yesterday saw the completion of the Sonatina for Cello and Piano.  It is not the first piece I've attempted to write for a student player;  and I rather half-fear that in the tradition of Three Things That Begin With 'C', I may have ended up by writing a piece rather beyond the young cellist's present abilities.  The question then is, whether the piece is on the order of something achievable as the student necessarily wins improved technique over time, or whether I've just written 'the wrong piece'.  The composer has the partial consolation, modest in scale though it be, that he likes the piece which has resulted.  Possibly illusory, but I have the feeling that everything in the Sonatina is related to two or three other passages in the piece, so that (even though it is not strictly a rhetorical composition in the Sonata tradition) it coheres quite snugly.
Now, apart from probably seeing at last to the final clarinet duo in the set of five, I begin to ponder a wind piece by request of Maria, who has asked for a piece broad and spacious after the spirit of Out in the Sun (really one of my hits, I should think).  I am thinking (bottom to top) tuba, bass tn, two tenor tns (I do dig that foundation, so to speak), four horns, bass clarinet, English horn, three oboes and sopranino clarinet. The Artist's Studio (There's a Wide World in There).  I was cautious in sharing this tentative title with her yesterday, but it seems to meet with approval.
As with Out in the Sun, I am here thinking a group weighted towards a lower tessitura, generally. Although, with all these oboes (and a sopranino clarinet) the new scoring has more instruments of higher frequencies. Part of the inspiration there must be my recent(-ish) revisitation of the Shostakovich Op.43, with that famous keening-oboes passage.
In walking around the pond yesterday, I began to hear the piece . . . it's going to start with the world's first English horn and sopranino clarinet duet.  Well, I haven't done the research, so I don't know that it will be the very first.  But, the first great English horn and sopranino clarinet duet, that's certain.
Wonderful to find that more than one erstwhile colleague has expressed warm interest in seeing the Cello Sonatina (yet another reason to wrap it up entirely this week).  Both pianist Scott Tinney, whom I first knew back in Buffalo (currently teaching in Peru, and beginning to negotiate the vagaries of life with a smart-phone), and cellist Sara Richardson Crigger, who used to sing with the St Paul's choir here in Boston (now working in Nashville).
A bit of a footnote touching on that now-ancient work, the Evening Service in D which I composed for St Paul's long erewhile:  Stuart Forster, m.d. and organist at Christ Church Cambridge (Massachusetts, that is), leads his choir in a weekly Evensong.  Long ago (as now it seems) we had a cup of coffee and a chat, and I asked him if he might have use for the Preces, Responses &c. which I composed as the 'utility' component of the Evening Svc.  He made me welcome to send . . . however, it was a case where, with the vagaries of electronic storage (where did I put that file?), I was insufficiently organized to follow through with any timeliness.  Whether at the last, he may actually find any use for it, I do not as yet know;  but yesterday, I did finally send the material along.
Viz. the Kyrie . . . loose plans to continue with other parts of the Ordinary, eventually to complete an unaccompanied Mass for mixed four-part choir (how quaint, I know, I know – but we odd composers, you know, write as the Muse bids us).  Certainly no hurry, unless some as-yet-unforeseen demand may arise.
Hoping to sort out the question of accompanying forces for the Cantata, another work which seem already to have a small but ready audience.  Hoping to sort this out, oh, anytime this summer, really.
Living into a highly sentimental return to both Hot Rats and Uncle Meat, which were the first two Zappa albums I found on vinyl in a used record shop on Route 23 in northern New Jersey, back in the day (way back).  I have the CD reissues, to be sure, and generally listen to them on headphones.  But this weekend, I came to play them both on a CD player, listening to them in the space (so to speak) . . . and that experience cued an agreeable type of nostalgia.  That said (not that I can determine the question at all scientifically), these albums sound better, richer on compact disc than I remember them sounding as LPs.
Thinking back to that time, I had a friend or two who were apt to praise the first three Mothers album (Freak Out!, Absolutely Free, and We're Only In It For the Money) above all else, so naturally I was curious to find those albums – which by the time I had heard of them, had been long out of print (thus explaining my quest for used record shops).  I never did find used (let alone new) copies of these albums in long-playing record form;  and at first I bought Hot Rats, Uncle Meat and Burnt Weenie Sandwich with a feeling of Oh well, I guess these will have to do.  As it turned out, though, these three albums got right in amongst me, and have worn very well over time indeed.  In fact (and contrary to the Received Wisdom of Rolling Stone), I actually think more highly of these albums than of the first three (which have been enshrined in 'the rock press' as eternal faves – not that they are bad albums, at all, bien sรปr).

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