UPDATE ALERT: Premiere in Lowell, MA (April 25)
It has been a little while since I've had time to share much about what is going on on my own composition/performance front and April is a busy month that will include a performance of the Pavane in its bassoon and piano version on April 2nd. I had not had a chance to play this yet so I thought I'd try it out. It lays well and is also playable on any C instrument--particularly beautiful on cello. The flute/oboe version is also quite nice and has a different color that seems a bit less poignant but with more longing.
The bigger news is that on Tuesday, April 25, @ 8PM, the UMASS-Lowell University Orchestra will be presenting Toccata originally for band but now reimagined for orchestra and with a couple extra measures to fill things in at the end. The piece was commissioned for the Century College Band originally and I thought it would be interesting to see what it would be like in an orchestral setting. It is quite interesting to hear the difference that the string section brings to this piece! The work is in a post-minimalist style which is very clear in this setting. Entirely in 7/8, the music bubbles along with a 6-note motif serving as a unifying thematic idea. That is tossed about the orchestra as well as the pulsing rhythms which provides great color changes. The students have really attacked this piece with a lot of enthusiasm considering this is a meter not often encountered in their normal orchestral writing. One of the equally interesting components is that there is a moment in the center where things are presented in a mirror shift of the pulse and retrograde transformation of the thematic idea which all comes across quite well. There are some in jokes that are related to the person who commissioned the work and the conductor of the band as well. The tempo is "Fast But Not Too Furious" (a reference to a popular film series) and the final moments of little tossing about the orchestra is a reference to those old Star Trek fight scene sections that seem to intervene before the final flourish. As we have played it is reminiscent of John Adams' Short Ride in a Fast Machine.
NEW: A last minute addition to the program will replace the Lament work. If We But Move to Light is a brief piece of spiritual minimalist/reflective music that I had set aside as I felt it was too short to be its own thing. But, we have decided to switch this shorter piece in which in a way will likely provide some healing and time for reflection after the last couple weeks. Both this and the Toccata will receive their East-Coast Premieres in the second half of the program.
I am forever grateful for the students and their conductor, Mark Latham, for taking the time to program and perform the Toccata. Having performed with them over the past 3 years, it has been a marvel to see how these students are encouraged to rise to a great musicianship for their concerts and bring an excitement and love to the music they perform. If you are in the area, I encourage you to set aside time and join us for the concert. The scores and parts are all available at JW Pepper and are linked here on the WORKS LIST page.
....................................................Originally two pieces were to be performed, but one was cut as a couple older students were concerned it was too intense for young audiences given the subject matter. A conversation was had to discuss the work and presenting challenging music, but ultimately the piece was pulled which is unfortunate. I am leaving the program note here below as a historical record and in case another orchestra is willing to take the risk of being bold enough to program the work. Having one's work suppressed or cancelled is always difficult but far greater composers than I have been down this path.
In a very different vein, is the world premiere of Lament and Expectation for Strings. It was June 17, 2015, when news broke that 9 members of an AME church in Charleston, South Carolina were shot by a white supremacist that had come to their Bible Study. Among the dead was the congregation's pastor. Since the Columbine shooting in 1999, it seems like these violent attacks have become more commonplace in our society and each one seems to be replaced by a new one blunting our collective consciousness. When the Charleston shooting occurred, I had one of those moments when I needed to get music out of my system that seemed to be incessantly forcing itself into my head as a sort of response. I decided to stay with a string setting as this has always felt like a more intimate, and personal sound. As the piece evolved, I realized that the opening motif was a morphed version of the traditional gospel song, "Amen". This in my head represented the group gathering at first in the church, but it also had this overarching plea quality to it as well. As the piece evolved and things became more intense, there are several moments where the different sections play the same music but the lines are all "off"--often an interval of a minor or major second. This creates tension and dissonance, but is a metaphor for how we discuss violence but seem to be talking past one another and unable to say the same thing. The sections must focus on their own intonation and sound and ignore the same lines around them. There are also suggestive, vicious slap pizzicato and slap bowing indicators to reference the shots fired. Towards the end of the piece, things begin to become more hopeful, but as it comes to a close, "shots" can be heard yet again shattering the expectations of a better world. It is a pretty intense work that last 5-7 minutes, which is about the same time of the shooting events that tend to occur. It will be interesting to hear feedback to see if the piece is effective in the concert setting. In the one week between the first reading and the next, there were 4 shootings in schools, and yet nothing changes in this new cultural acceptance of such events.
That is about as "political"/social justice like I will probably get in the blog here but in the case of this work it is important to understanding the genesis of the piece and how the mind works. The piece was actually composed over the course of one evening and I set it aside for quite a while.