Everything Old is New Again

This past month, I have had several encounters and interactions with what has become a mythicized subgroup of the concert going population. This special league of individuals are oftenthe topic of much discussion and controversy and whether one speaks to a general manager of a large artistic institution or a young computer music grad student, one will get an ear full of how to handle this clique. I speak, of course, about the aging subscriber; the person that folklore tells us will only enjoy a concert of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony on the second half with Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in D on the first or will settle with either Bohème or Carmen at the opera. This person is politically liberal but “likes things the way they were”. This patron goes to the symphony, opera, or chamber music concert to relax and rewind from the stresses of what I’m only assuming is retirement. This person gets audibly upset and frustrated when the Beethoven and Mendelssohn is preceded with a ten-minute piece from the last half century. In my mind, this person is more rare to find then the artistic planners, general managers, graduate music students, and classical music critics say they are.

Every year around this time the major orchestras, opera houses, and presenting institutions release their new seasons. I am personally one of those people that refreshes the Met website up until noon when the brand spankin’ new productions are announced. This year, and the last few years now that I think about it, there has been this pretty intense discussion about how much new music and how much music by women is being programmed each year. Simply, women composers need to be performed more often. The sad truth is that they are also lumped into the new music category which makes their music that much harder to get on a program. My goal as a current educator is to show equal parts new music and old music as well as music by men and music by women. A first grade girl once told me that girl’s cannot be composers because they aren’t as good as boys. Of course this broke my heart and I essentially tossed out the curriculum that day and spent the class listening to works by women composers and watching concerts with women conductors. Let’s blur the any type of boundary now…

Let me tackle the old vs. new music thing. The critics of “THE (capital THE) ESTABLISHMENT” believe that the people listed above are the problem and are stifling progress. But as a composer who would love a commission, I too would like to hear some dead guy music at the symphony. The music written today is both indebted to and inspired by Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and forward. I personally love being on a concert with “THE CANON” than on a new music ghetto of sorts. My music personally feels right in that context and some of my peers music (which I love and have loads of respect for) might work best on a program of all new music. 

A couple months ago, I was at the Met and saw L’amour de loin. It made my heart happy to see/hear three things:

1. The number of young people was insane. They. Were. Everywhere. 

2. The number of people in the house. It was a full house which I had yet to see at the Met over the years.

3. The number of people described above that loved the music and found it MELODIC! Thank God of course it is and that to me is some progress!

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Talking About Dancing

I just wrapped up a six week stint composing at the Brevard Music Center up in the mountains of North Carolina. The program is intense in the sense that one has to write a lot of music in a very short amount of time. I think is is good overall to sort of view composing as both a job in which you have to clock in some hours everyday as well as an artistic discovery process. Of course, "inspiration" doesn't come everyday while working but I feel as though composers have to supplement that void with whatever the compositional equivalent of scales and etudes are (the Piston Counterpoint and Harmony exercises are my go to). Being around instrumentalists who work on fundamentals intensely everyday made me look back at what I do as a composer. I think we as composers need to focus on "craft" more. 

Anyway, I came out of the Brevard experience with two new pieces; Elysian Fields and Nijinsky Dances. The latter of the two was a piece that's been swirling in my mind for awhile now and has a great deal to do with the Music Center itself. After seeing a performance of Stravinsky's Petrushka in 2012, I wanted to write a big ole flashy dance overture. What came out was a piece that starts with a wink wink nudge nudge to Russian overtures that then veers off into a sort of ghostly atmosphere where fragments of famous ballets emerge and disappear. The rest of the piece combines both Russian overture music with quasi pop/rock/modern dance rhythms. There is a great recording of the piece by the Brevard Sinfonia with David Dzubay conducting on the Nijinsky Dances page. 

I will wrap up by saying that the best part about attending these festivals, especially Brevard, is that you get to meet, interact, and work with high caliber composers. I have met so many talented and all around great people here. There are links to many of their websites in the "etc." page of the website. Check out their music and play it!        

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General Update(s)

Quick composing update: I'm currently hard at work writing my first string quartet. Because I got it into my head that I wanted text involved with this quartet (and I couldn't look back for some odd reason), I am now scurrying about the internet maintaining poetry rights. Ah, the joys of creativity and "art". 

Freedom Songs premiere went quite well. Members from the first class of Carnage Middle were in attendance which consisted of a former Vice-President of UNC, an Alvin Ailey dancer, and a basketball player from the Jimmy V. years at NC State. Very humbling. The piece is now available for purchase here

I'm also getting really deep back into my Steve Reich catalogue. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with that music, mostly because I find Reich's rather blunt views on music somewhat similar to that of early Pierre Boulez. Reich has, to some degree, dismissed music between 1750 to about 1913. That's all good and well (not my own opinion) but to say you absolutely refuse to listen to it...it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Not to go on a tangent about composer's musical opinions, BUT, I always find it difficult to separate a musical personality from the music itself. This goes further back with composers like Wagner who desperately needs the audience to separate his radical anti-Semitic views from his deeply spiritual music. It is hard for me to not listen to Boulez without seeing a giant middle finger to the "standard rep." which he wanted to, at one point, abandon. Just some thoughts. (If you are not familiar with Reich, here is Tehillim and Music for 18 Musicians)     

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Food for Thought

For the past 3 years, one aspect I really have missed about being away from home has been the ability to cook. The first two years, I was confined to a college dorm room which lent itself to making coffee and heating up soup. I considered briefly trying to "cook" with my coffee maker (re: NPR article) but I quickly dispelled the thought of mandatory coffee flavored [insert food]. The third year of college, I shared what could possibly be described as "a kitchen" with seven other people. This being said, I was next to impossible to get any cooking time down there excluding building a sandwich or heating something up quickly. However, this year, I have my own kitchen and it has/continues to be glorious! I'm now constantly thinking of menus and perfecting certain dishes. The stars have now truly aligned now that Netflix has uploaded America's Test Kitchen! Netflix has never been a big thing in my life until this happened. I'm constantly jotting down recipes in the very specific and detail orientated way Chris Kimball lays them out. My manuscript note books have now equal parts musical ideas and recipes. Tonight, I have a friend coming in for the weekend and, in typical Ina Garten fashion, I ran out to the store and bought the *good* wine and the *good* loaf of bread. The menu for tonight is pesto (again courtesy of America's Test Kitchen) with farfalle pasta. Dare I say, because of this kitchen, I enjoy entertaining and just generally cooking with/for people. It's been a great excuse to get people over to the apartment and have some good conversation. 

Also, in shameless plug news, the premiere of Letter Writing is tomorrow afternoon (1:30) in the Recital Hall at UNCG. Additionally, Kelsey Paquin and William Hueholt are taking the show on the road, as it where, to Wilmington, NC (new and current home of my sister) and performing the very literal east coast premiere of Letter Writing!!! Hope to see you there. 

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In the Near Future

I'm currently wrapping up a really bizarre score for a new production of Sophie Treadwell's Machinal for the University of North Carolina at Greensboro's Theatre Department. It's a strange mix of sound design, music, and a collage of abstract aural images. The show opens October 22 at Brown Theatre on UNCG's campus. Here is a link for more info. 

Additionally, Ian McKenzie is putting on a truly fantastic program of clarinet music on November 14 including my brand new baby, Letter Writing. The much better pieces on the program include Brahms' Second Clarinet Sonata (Letter Writing's big brother) and Schubert's Der Hirt auf dem Felsen. The stellar pianist Will Hueholt performs Letter Writing along side Ian at 1:30 in the UNCG Recital Hall. If you are in the Greensboro area, come out at least of the Brahms and Schubert. 

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