03 March 2021

About the Opus 88

  I had known New England Conservatory Wind Ensemble director Charles Peltz some years before, when we were both in Buffalo (where I did my doctoral work). After my years abroad (in Tallinn and St Petersburg) when I found myself living in the Boston area and I learnt that Charles was at NEC, I called, and we got together to talk. I brought with me the score for I Sang to the Sky, and Day Broke for orchestral winds and harp (which I had composed for Andrew Levin, director of the Clemson University orchestra.) The Boston Chapter of the American Composer’s Forum (I think it’s now the New England Chapter) together with the NEC Wind Ensemble had an annual call for scores for a reading. They would select the best pieces from among those submitted, and the composers would come to Jordan Hall, and the ensemble (who had all been given parts to look at ahead of time) would read through the pieces. Charles suggested to me that I submit the piece for that reading.

Some years later, my submission to this call was the trunk of a piece I had begun a many months earlier, five minutes of the start of a piece for six saxophones and four low brass. I wrote that opening paragraph of the piece in a New England April, when winter had at last released its grasp, and I simply reflected on how good it felt at last to be out in the sun. It was a chunk of music I liked a great deal, and which I had not meant to leave unfinished so long. But one of the reasons I don’t like writing music “for the shelf” is, I don’t have a performance to motivate me to finish it, and then, if there is demand for another piece which will be performed – I find that instantly more attractive. That was why Out in the Sun lay unfinished (and in the shade) so long: there were other pieces which wanted writing.

And so, when in 2005 (probably) I saw the latest annual call for scores co-sponsored by the American Composers Forum and NEC, I felt that perhaps this was the occasion to dust off Out in the Sun. I was not yet setting myself to finish it; I thought I would just submit that (self-contained) opening of the piece, which was in essence already composed. All that needed doing at the time was, I had to modify the scoring to suit the call: six saxophones were too many. I reacquainted myself with this old sketch, and found that I could recast some of the writing, so that I could substitute clarinets for two of the saxophones, which would bring my score into compliance with the specs of the call.

So: yet again (I am pleased to say) my piece was among those selected; and this time the piece made such an impression on Charles, that he spoke to me about a performance. The piece was unfinished as it was, but I could readily complete it. That trunk of the piece was about five minutes long, and I was planning on about a 15-minute piece.  Charles encouraged me to finish it, and then gave the complete Op.88 its première performance.  Indeed, he thought (and thinks still) so highly of the piece, that he spread the word among his conducting colleagues.

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