henningmusick: Progress: Last night, Fair Warning reached more-or-less completion, a fiery-eyed tiger of a piece which I am a little astonished to feel that it is music I have written. There are many things I am pleased with, and that wee astonishment is one of them.
Seven years ago today, the news from my writing-desk was the Viola Sonata, which would be so passionately performed by Dana Huyge and Carolyn Ray in the jolly town of Rochester. The Reader will pardon me, I hope, for ruminating a bit.
Thumbnail background: When a mere slip of a boy, I played the clarinet in high school bands, and was introduced to (among other musical wonders) exciting modernist band works by Peter Mennin, William Schuman & Paul Hindemith. The Symphony in Bb by the last was especially a seminal experience, and my dreams of composing music of my own may well date from that experience.
While in St Petersburg, I got to know and love Russian Orthodox men’s choir liturgical music, which at once reinvigorated and enriched a love of choral music dating back (also) to my high school days.
When I arrived in the Boston area, the opportunities which first arose for Henning composition, my first few Massachusetts years, were for the most part modest (in both scale and musical technique) occasional pieces for use in church. This body of work (with the rare exception of a genuine turkey) I am perfectly content to own, musically. If, however, I should meet an orchestra conductor, or the director of a chamber group dedicated to new music, and introduce myself as a composer, when I reported that my recent work was of the kind that it was, the other person mentally dismissed me as “a church musician” – of itself, a worthy occupation (whether the other party understands so or not), but an evaluative decision which rendered me a nonentity in their ears.
Opportunities to write music for large ensemble came to me only rarely: there was The Wind, the Sky, & the Wheeling Stars for the Quincy Symphony (written at an invitation from Yoichi Udagawa, in late 1999), and I Sang to the Sky, and Day Broke for orchestral winds & harp, written for the Clemson University Orchestra (after I responded to a call for such works from Andrew Levin in 2000). Given that one’s craft improves by writing more and more, my craft was not going to be served well if I wrote large-ensemble works only when specific opportunities arose – and this was the Primary Idea behind the genesis of the ballet, White Nights.
And now, Gentle Reader, you may well be thinking, Hell of a thumbnail! and I apologize. Between the music for use in church services (which could not in most senses be adventurous) and the large-ensemble music written either for an occasion (Quincy and Clemson) or on spec (the ballet), I had done quite a patch of composing in (to use the adjective in a thoroughly positive sense) an ingratiating style. When Dana approached me for a Viola Sonata, however, I knew how free the rein was which I had, and I knew the musical uses to which I might put it.
So at long last, this post is in effect to thank Dana for the opportunity to write a major chamber work, of an elementally vigorous nature. It is a musical success upon which I have built since.