28 February 2010

Second Performance

This post is all after the fact (and so probably fails to emulate a blogly timepoint) . . . but Jaya labored mightily to organize a benefit concert for Haiti earthquake relief. The centerpiece for the concert-to-be was a Bach Cantata, so Jaya fought off a cold while casting about a net for singers and “old music” instrumentalists, and thinking repertory. To my profound pleasure, Jaya leafed through the Henning catalogue and found a Psalm setting I had been commissioned to compose for choir & organ, and which was performed once by the St Paul’s Cathedral choir here in Boston (20 March 2005).

Manifold was my pleasure at the prospect of a fresh performance of my De profundis. For one thing, there is the truth in Zappa's trenchant remark on new music — that even though the program says “World Première,” that usually means “Last Performance.” It can be (and in most cases, just plain is) difficult to bring a new score to a first performance; but (to evoke that magical phrase) a new piece doesn’t enter the repertory merely as a result of a première . . . and it is in many ways yet more a triumph when a piece gets a second performance.

For another, here was the prospect of a performance, which was not a direct result of my own efforts, which is not a performance in which the composer is himself a participant.

Please do not mistake me — I like playing, wish I were playing more (or, what is subtly different, wish I had more time for playing), and I enjoy singing, and I enjoy conducting. Performance was the mode in which I first became a musician, and I hope never to abandon it.

For a composer to become a success, though, his music needs to be performed and taken up by broader and broader circles. The tightest circle imaginable is, performances directly involving the composer.

To wax geometric for a moment, I took pleasure in the grander circumference of the circle in this instance.

Hearty thanks and a hearty kudos to all the musicians, who volunteered their time, talent & energies in the cause of the concert generally, and to my piece in particular.

There is a proper recording which was made of the concert, a copy of which will wend its way to-me-ward at some point. But I did have with me my shoestring “field recorder,” and the yen for some instant gratification in this case was too powerful not to yield to, and I did throw the switch:

20 February 2010

Carter & Sully

A new concerto by our Grand Old Man:

[ link → review ]

And a grand, historical canvas will at last be on proper view:

This is the first time in more than 100 years that the frame and the painting have been together.

On the road

Somehow, it was The Day of Elton John on the car radio today. You would have to be a rock musician, wouldn’t you, to imagine that Zero Hour could be as comfortably late in the day as 9AM. And I’m not sure that “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” bears up well under two listenings within half an hour.

17 February 2010

Fuguing Snow

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Inspired by the beauties of the snow in this morning’s sun, I wrote up a fugato passage for the string choir.

Good night . . . .

16 February 2010

Snow for Composition

Very pleased with last night’s rehearsal of the Passion, notwithstanding the fact that a certain section of the choir seems to resist spending the time needed to master the music – which, in passages with subtly interlocking rhythms among the strands of choral ‘accompaniment’, is pretty seriously letting their fellow choristers down. Overall, though, the choir treated the piece and the rehearsal as if they mattered, and a solid quorum of the singers participated with full attention.

That said – there is still ample work to be done, but then, the performances are still about a month hence, and there is room for the will to learn the piece to become unpuzzled. Several sections of the piece are already working very nicely; the choir have now sung through the entire piece (thus learning where some of the continuity lapses are, which need a little attention), and all the components of the piece are more or less ‘in place’.

Recording arrived this past Friday of the Michigan performance of Out in the Sun. No, I haven’t yet listened to it. Is that news? Is it blogworthy? . . .

As the bus home this late afternoon negotiated traffic and slushy streets, I continued work on Discreet Erasures.

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15 February 2010

Discreet Update

You are lost the instant you know what the result will be.
Juan Gris

I dream my painting and then paint my dream.
Vincent Van Gogh

One slight inconvenience to having let go of Discreet Erasures in the middle of the task is, I’ve needed to examine the hand-drawn sketches closely, so that I understand perfectly where the work stands, in bringing the hand-written manuscript into the Sibelius environment.

Now, I have finished bringing music I had composed this past October (a passage I’ve called strings on the wing, as well as a contrapuntal section for woodwinds and first trumpet) into the Sibelius file. At this point, the running time of the piece so far is two minutes forty seconds, and there are eighteen pages of score. We are now ready to build into the score the next passage, which I have been preparing this past week, and which will broaden out the time-scale a bit.

Continuing Discretion

Resumed work on Discreet Erasures, a short piece for fairly large orchestra, and an exercise in devil-may-care composition. It will be difficult enough, that probably only a professional orchestra will be capable of tackling it. And, of course, chances are fair that no professional orchestra will play the piece in my lifetime. I’ve already got two orchestral pieces in the can, written within the capabilities of more modest orchestras (and they have been sitting on the shelf since their initial performances). So the Erasures are an exercise of musical imagination, in defiance of any prospect of performance.

This is not any new idea for me, and at an early point in work on the Erasures I began incorporating into it parts of an unfinished trunk of a piece, which had gone by the working title of Barefoot on the Crowded Road.

I had not looked at the Erasures for a couple of months. Going back to the work-in-progress with fresh ears and eyes, I am very pleased with it. Ready to get on with the piece, and in fact I’ve been writing up more sketches.

10 February 2010

Crying for the Carolines

Organists singing . . . wonder why we’re allowing it.

07 February 2010

Glare in Rear-View

Finished Lunar Glare yesterday. I had hand-written sketches for the ‘blank’ passage which was just before the ending (which I had already composed), and so I folded these into the Sibelius score. The ending needed tightening, which in this case was a ‘loosening’; the ending was a little abrupt (you don’t want to spoil a nice 16-minute piece with an ending which gives an impression of being rushed), so there is a seam or two that I ‘let out’ just slightly.

Much earlier in the score (p.2) I had a full measure’s rest, which has consistently just felt too long: an easy fix. (Very happy with the Sibelius software.) Easy-ish, anyway . . . my first action (adding a new measure, in which I planned to create a 3/4 measure to replace two 2/4 measures, and thus lose a quarter-note’s worth of the overlong rest) did something weird with two ossia bars on the same line, but I found a work-around without undue mental taxation.

I expanded the first clarinet solo passage slightly. And there are two and a half pages in which, in the working draught I had sent to the harpsichordist for review, the clarinet part was missing. Missing, because I had not composed it yet; and that passage at the time consisted only of Aberti-ish rhythmically activated chords in the keyboard. So, yes, I devised a clarinet part for those pages.

At this point, then, just minor alterations to consider for the score; composition is essentially done (I already see a measure to which I probably ought to add a cautionary natural-sign).

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Afterwards, I went for an hour’s walk. The air was invigoratingly fresh, but it was sunny and there was not much wind.

06 February 2010

Ice Breaker

One aspect to having thrown enough copies of the organ Toccata — that brutal piece — around, is that after a couple of years, you hear fresh news about one of the organists to whom you've slung it. (If I were Sir Paul McCartney, I had written to whom you've slung it to.) You then spring a refresher e-mail greeting at him . . . and monitor his reactions closely.

Had a delightful musical moment yesterday. Completely disoriented my dear mom-in-law in the next room by playing John Cage’s Suite for Toy Piano (whose liner notes include the line Margaret Leng Tan plays a Steinway piano and a Schoenhut toy piano.) Wonderful moment of puzzlement on her dear face, as she asked, “Is that you?” Good to know I can surprise a near & dear one even after all these years . . . .

It’s been a long slow recovery (though happily from nothing grave) and I’ve had to conserve energies for the essentials (including work on Lunar Glare). Still some time yet allotted to me in the course of this Waiting Game, but the feeling is good (and I can’t fight that good feeling anymore . . . .)

A couple of nights where sleep is a little bit wanting: you know it isn’t a big deal, and then, you get your first night of good sleep back, and you feel perfectly refreshed, there is an overwhelming sense that the world is a peach for your plucking. (Getting word of this year’s incentive pay for the day job doesn’t hurt, either.) Suffused with a sense that a string of steady instances of great musical success awaits me this year. It may be illusory, but I am grateful even for the illusion.

Anything could still happen (up to and including outright cancellation), I know . . . but the De Profundis — a piece whose première was such a touch-&-go affair in both its long preparation, and the event of its first performance — is slated for a Haiti earthquake relief concert here in the Back Bay. The choir are quite a compact (or even subcompact) group, but (a) if they can master the music (and there is the time so to master), a ‘chamber choir’ reading of the piece is well within the span of the composer’s vision for the music, and (b) the organ in question can be registered in such wise that the smaller vocal forces are supported rather than swamped.

I look forward keenly to this.