Monthly Archives: March 2012

Works in progress…

Out of one fire and into another! Still riding the high of a great premiere last weekend (see previous blog), I now need to turn my attention somehow to the next round of deadlines, or more importantly, all the work that has to be done before said deadlines. Currently there are 4 pieces in the queue:

#1 – Official title: Ponder: a work for 12 brass instruments, to be performed around a body of water. I guess it should go farther and say “to be performed around a specific body of water,” namely the Chapels Pond on the Brandeis campus (shown on right). I received a grant for this piece from the Brandeis Office of the Arts for the 2012 Leonard Bernstein Festival of the Arts. The piece will be premiered on Thursday, April 26th at 6:30pm (around the pond) as part of the festival’s opening night events.

The idea to write a piece specifically for this location had been in the back of my head for a while, as it’s one of my favorite places on campus: it’s secluded but not removed from campus life, and it’s a very peaceful, shady, “happy” spot, and it’s beautiful! So when I was talking with Ingrid Shorr (from the Office of the Arts), and she mentioned that she’d always thought it would be nice for someone to do a site-specific installation/ piece/ something at the Chapels, I knew I had to jump on it!

I also had an almost immediate picture of what I wanted the piece to be, and I’ve deviated only slightly from the original plan (odd for me!). The work will be a “deconstruction” of sorts of the well-known, so-called (somewhat erroneously, but oh well) “Hornpipe” movement from Handel’s Water Music (the actual “Hornpipe” movement occurs earlier in the work, though this better known movement is subtitled “alla hornpipe”), which was itself a sight-specific work, requested by King George I to be performed on a barge in the middle of the Thames.

This deconstructive process involves breaking the melodic material down into small motivic “cells”, divorced from their original rhythmic counterparts, thus making the work much less (if not completely un-) recognizable while preserving the melodic content in its entirety. The 12 brass players will then be divided into 4 groups, with each group being given a sequence of these cells to be completed within a specified amount of time. Each section of Ponder will correspond to a section of the original work, and will be marked not by measure numbers, but by minutes/seconds. So for example, Section 1 lasts 5 minutes, and Group 1 is given a sequence of 24 cells, to be completed within the 5 minutes, though they are free to individually decide, within that time frame, when they move from one cell to the next.

The overall effect (at least in theory), then, is one of a sort of “free micropolyphony”, with the performers in each group playing the same material, within the same amount of time, but independently of one another, creating a continuously morphing “web” of sound. The picture I use in my head is that of what would happen if the notes of Handel’s piece were to suddenly become sheep and meander across the page, each at their own pace, stopping at will to graze or running ahead to a shady tree or a drink of water, all the while moving toward the same destination, ushered along by a sheep dog, but in no real orderly fashion. It’s now March 24th, so the piece should theoretically be finished within the next week or two. Please don’t ask me how far along I am…

#2 – Working title: RAWR, for piccolo, bassoon, trumpet, flugabone, drums, piano, and electric bass. This piece is being written for the Unofficial Brandeis Graduate Composers Ensemble, The Gentlemen’s Very (Very) High Art Society of South Waltham, of which I am a Distinguished Member in Good Standing (that plays the trumpet). The title, along with the inspiration for the piece, comes from my long-term interest in and more recent obsession with heavy metal bands. More specifically Meshuggah, Mastadon, and my personal favorite Gojira. Mix that with lots of classical training, a jazz background, and the occasional awesome absurdity of Primus and Frank Zappa, et al, and you’ll have an idea of what I’m going for. We’ll see how it turns out! The premiere will be on Sunday, April 29 at 4pm, at the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis, played by The Gentlemen.

#3 – Chamber Wind Ensemble piece. This one I haven’t really started thinking about yet, and probably won’t until the summer, but it’s an exciting project! The commission is from East Carolina University (my Alma Mater – go Pirates!), and initial discussions have raised the possibility of writing a piece for the same instrumentation as the original version of Symphonies of Wind Instruments by Stravinsky. Could be fun!

#4 – Piece for Alto Flute and Dbl. Bass. This is probably the coolest commission I’ve received. A friend and colleague at Brandeis has two friends who are getting married later this year, and instead of traditional gifts, all their closest friends have decided to commission works of art for them! Someone is commissioning a sculpture, some paintings, some poems, etc., and Georgia (my friend) wants to commission me to write them a short piece. The couple are both musicians (she flute, he bass), so I thought a duet for that instrumentation would be interesting, and holds many nice compositional puzzles and possibilities. Most of all, I really think this is the most awesome gift idea I’ve ever heard of, and I’m honored to be a part of it!

As my wife will no doubt remind me, there should actually be a #5 on here (and it should probably be closer to the top!), because the coming year will also be my dissertation year, meaning a paper and another piece are in my not-so-distant-and-now-I’m-freaking-out future! Yikes.

But one fire at a time….

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Talujon Residency/ Froschteichmusik Premiere

Last weekend, we Brandesians were fortunate enough to have the Talujon Percussion Group in town for a 2-day residency. Friday they held a concert in the Rose Art Museum’s Lee Gallery that included John Cage’s Four6, a work by group member Dominick Donato, and a new work by fellow PhD student James Borchers. Saturday evening, as part of the New Music Brandeis concert series, they premiered 8 new works by Brandeis grad composers, including my percussion quartet, Froschteichmusik.

The work was inspired by an experience I had last summer of hearing an especially animated and evidently musically-inclined group of crepuscular creatures (frogs, toads, cicadas, etc) around a small farm pond in North Carolina (for more details, see my previous blog). It begins with a somewhat cheesily simplistic, metronomic ostinato, which quickly becomes the basis for several different but related temporal levels, mimicking the regular but independent polyrhythmic lines “performed” by the various frogs.

The rest of the work undergos various transformations, transcending (hopefully at least!) its humble beginnings and becoming an increasingly harmonically rich tapestry of sound, which, though not intentionally “programmatic”, does in some ways capture (inadequately of course) the essence of the night in question, out in the middle of nowhere, under a huge sky free from city lights, bursting with stars, the air filled with lingering humidity and the sounds of frogs.

In any case, the residency was a huge success in every way. We had a wonderful turnout for the concerts, some really amazing pieces/ performances, and the group really was a pleasure to work with from start to finish. Below are a few pics from the weekend’s festivities.


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