There always has to be an angle. That’s what foundations and funding sources insist on from presenters and performers these days, and the angle at last night’s concert by Network for New Music at The Barnes Foundation was the notion of having a group of composers write pieces in some way inspired by the museum’s collection. (The Barnes’s title for the event, “American Composers Respond”, sounded too much like a title card from a newsreel dating from shortly after Pearl Harbor.) There were new pieces by Kristin Kuster, Jeremy Gill, Stephen Hartke and Louis Karchin, all of relatively modest dimensions, and all meriting the listener’s attention.  Stephen Hartke offered The Blue Studio, a set of perfectly timed and characterful miniatures for piano trio, while Louis Karchin’s Luminous Fields, inspired by Rousseau, set in motion fleet gestures in harmonically bright colors, using harp, flute, cello, and pitched percussion. The concert took place in the reverberant space of the Light Court at the Barnes, and that resonance enhanced the moments of three-dimensional depth in the minimalist strata of Kristin Kuster’s folding planes: frosted panes, inspired by the Barnes building itself. Jeremy Gill captured something of the intense colors and fluid approach to form in the cutouts of Matisse in his Sons Découpés. Network’s performances were typically fine throughout the evening.

Here’s (left to right) Jeremy Gill, Stephen Hartke, and Kristin Kuster after the show:



Gerald Levinson, Jay Reise and Stephen Hartke:


and Jerry again with myself and Lou Karchin:


Excellent music excellently played isn’t good enough for grant givers these days, but for listeners, it will do just fine, and that was the gift granted us by Network last night.

Only time for a quick note before I get back to the oboe quartet. You should go to:

– an all-Richard Wernick program tomorrow night, Feb. 25, at U Penn, 8 pm in Rose Recital Hall, featuring the Daedalus Quartet and pianist Gregory DeTurck

– Network for New Music at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia this Friday, Feb. 27; more info here. A video preview:

– a concert in honor of the extraordinary violinist Rolf Schulte will be held at Merkin Concert Hall in NYC next Wednesday, March 4. Program include a Hayes Biggs premiere. More info here.

Finish LineI have almost finished the oboe quartet I am doing for Peggy Pearson and members of the Apple Hill Quartet: Elisa Kuder, Michael Kelley, and Rupert Thompson. Go to the performances page for a listing of when they will be doing the piece this spring. An additional performance, this time with Catherine Cho, Steve Tenenbom, and Marcy Rosen joining Peggy, has recently been scheduled for this June 18 at the Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival.

The piece is working out to be in five movements, tentatively headed as follows, with some comments on the music:
I. Moderato – lyrical, oboe takes the lead
II. Allegro con fuoco – terse, sometimes ferocious
III. Passacaglia: Adagio – harmonically the darkest movement of the set, the textures here are mostly spare and contrapuntal
IV. Moderato e fluente – lyrical again, but with the melodic burden shared more equally, and with a more polyphonic texture.
V. Moderato; Allegro giocoso – an introduction recalls the first movement, followed by a playful main section that hints at some jazz and rock idioms.

Back to work!

MLUSTIGJust got word that Meredith Lustig will be the soprano for the New York Festival of Song performance of my Waltzing the Spheres this coming Tuesday, Feb. 10 in NYC. You can find samples of her work at her SoundCloud page; from what I hear there, it sounds like this is going to be a fantastic performance.

Things have been quiet here at Secret Geometry lately, mostly because I have been concentrating on making progress with the Oboe Quartet I am writing for Peggy Pearson and Winsor Music. But I want to catch up on a few things:

– my Meditation for Candlemas will be heard at this Sunday’s Eucharist at Emmanuel Church, Boston – 10 AM service, Ryan Turner conducts. This was the first piece I wrote for Emmanuel back in 1994; seven more motets have followed. (Check the worklist and audio excerpt links above)

– here are some pictures from the Dolce Suono Ensemble premiere of Badinerie Squared. Flutists Mimi Stillman and Jeffrey Khaner were brilliant in my little duet. Here they are with colleagues Charles Abramovic, harpsichord and Gabriel Cabezas, cello – the four offered works by C. P. E. and J. S. Bach as part of the program.

Mimi had invited a long list of composers to write short pieces for this program, here’s are most of them, as well as the performers:

L to R: Jeffrey Khaner, myself, Robert Maggio, Charles Abramovic, Heidi Jacob, Mimi Stilman, Gabriel Cabezas, Jeremy Gill, and Jan Kryzwicki.

– the other concert that I haven’t written about was the “Voice of the Wail!” program at Penn on January 23. Maureen Francis and Matt Bengston did a beautiful job with two songs from my Holy the Firm, as well as Waltzing the Spheres. Here we are after the program:


Francis JP Bengston

Penn alum Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon was our guest for the concert, with three impressive short pieces. His piano trio, Jácaras, was especially striking: economical, full of quicksilver gestures. Here he is after the program:



– The New York premiere of Waltzing the Spheres will be on the February 10 New York Festival of Song program at OPERA America’s National Opera Center, 330 Seventh Avenue (at 29th Street). I don’t know who the performers are yet, but I do know I have consistently heard strong performances on NYFOS concerts.

OK, time to get back to composing and let the blog get back to napping. I expect to be here more often in a few weeks.


“Wail of the Voice” (the phrase is a play is on Penn emeritus professor George Crumb’s chamber work Voice of the Whale), the annual concert of music by Penn faculty and alums, is coming right up, Friday, January 23 at 8 pm in Rose Recital Hall, which is located on the fourth floor of Fisher-Bennett Hall on the Penn campus at 34th and Walnut in Philadelphia. Admission is free. Maureen Francis, soprano, and Matthew Bengston, piano, will be doing two songs from my cycle Holy the Firm, as well as my Susan Scott Thompson setting, Waltzing the Spheres. There also will be a piano trio by Jay Reise, and three pieces by Penn alumnus Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon.

I just got word of this upcoming performance, unfortunately a little too late for my most recent e-newsletter: Emmanuel Music will do my motet Meditation for Candlemas as part of the 10:00 am Sunday Eucharist at Emmanuel Church in Boston on February 1. Emmanuel Music’s Artistic Director Ryan Turner will conduct.

This piece sets a text by Denise Levertov, and is the first of the eight motets I have written for Emmanuel Church so far, dating back to 1994. Check out the complete list of my choral music here, and listen to recorded excerpts here.

My longtime friend and colleague Daniel Dorff sent a link to a helpful webpage that offers guidance on writing a symphony. Lots of interesting insights, may eliminate the need for a theory textbook when classes resume this week.

Danny will be one of the composers having new pieces done on this coming Sunday’s Dolce Suono concert. My contribution will be this little flute duet.

Alex Ross wrote recently about a blogging challenge to name nine favorite symphonies, one for each numbered slot. While the lists I’ve read range widely in terms of the nationality of the composer, what if one tried to devise a list of nine American symphonies?

Speaking only of pieces I have heard, either live or on recordings, I can’t come up with a piece for every numeric slot. On the other hand, there are multiple possibilities for some of the lower numbers. Here’s a by no means exhaustive list of favorite American symphonies of mine without regard to the numbered slots or the limit of nine. I am surely forgetting some great stuff, but this is what comes to mind at the moment. I did make the tough decision to pick a favorite piece by those composers from whom I have heard more than one symphony (Corigliano, Ives, Harbison, Rochberg, Rouse, Sessions, Wernick), and have included pieces that are not designated with a number by their composers. (Adams would be on this list if he used the name “symphony” for a piece like Naive and Sentimental Music.)

Copland: Short Symphony
Corigliano: #1
Currier: Microsymph
Hanson: #2
Harbison: #2
Harris: #3
Hartke: #3
Ives: #4
Persichetti: #6 (for band)
Rochberg: Symphony #2
Rouse: #2
Schuman: #3
Sessions: #2
Stucky: Symphony
Wernick: #1
Wuorinen: Percussion Symphony
Zwillich: #1

I really don’t know how I would trim this to nine. If you forced me to try to do so, I can say that the Ives and Rochberg would definitely be on the list, probably the Copland, but after that…

I probably would never have heard the Hanson if I had not heard it used as the sign-off music for WCLV-FM when I was growing up in Cleveland. The Persichetti also has sentimental associations, since I played it in college. (However, it is not listed just out of sentimentality, as I have heard more than one person say that it is one of his best pieces.)

I’ve heard only part of the symphonic output of several of the composers listed above (including Sessions, Harris, and Schuman among the older generations), and there are plenty of composers whose symphonies I have not heard at all (Piston, Ran, Harrison, to name just three). And, I repeat, I am surely just forgetting something at the moment. What pieces would you add to a list of favorite American symphonies?