Blog: Secret Geometry

“Listen to the slow movement”

“What we can say, a saying both exceeding and falling short of responsible knowledge, is that there is music which conveys both the grave constancy, the finality of death and a certain refusal of that very finality. This dual motion, instinctual to humanity but scandalous to reason, is evident, it is made transparent to spiritual, intellectual and physical notice, in Schubert’s C-major Quintet. Listen to the slow  movement.”

– George Steiner in the book Real Presences.

Latest Recordings (pinned post)

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Vocalisms includes 10 of my songs for soprano and piano, performed by Mary Mackenzie and Heidi Louise Williams. The album also features songs by John Harbison, Ned Rorem, and Daniel Crozier. You can find it at the Albany Records website, or Amazon. 

CD cover

Sacred Songs is devoted to my music for voice and ensemble, and was released by Bridge Records. Susan Narucki and William Sharp are the soloists; Christopher Kendall conducts the 21st Century Consort. It’s available at Amazon and at Arkiv Music.  A review by Christian B. Carey on the Musical America website is here; another is at Audiophile Audition, by Steven Ritter. Composer Daniel Asia discusses the album at the Huffington Post here.

“Four Sketches” Premiere

Heartfelt thanks to the Imani Winds for their beautiful first performance of my Four Sketches for woodwind quintet this past Friday. This is a group of virtuosi who not only can play anything, but deeply understood my music, grasping its expressive intent and using their formidable chops to project it powerfully to the audience. It was a thrill to be part of their program, featuring music by members of the ensemble present (Jeff Scott) and and past (Valerie Coleman) as well as music by Ligeti, Harbison, and Schifrin – a thrill because of the group’s palpable connection with the sellout audience. Thank you as well to the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society – the organization that presented the concert and commissioned the piece. Here’s hoping Imani gets more chances to play the work – I’ll of course keep you informed about that. Read Peter Dobrin’s review of the concert from the Philadelphia Inquirer here. (Unfortunately, I didn’t see a group press picture with the ensemble’s new flutist – Brandon Patrick George –  on their website just yet. That’s the Imani’s original flutist, Valerie Coleman, seated in the picture at left. Photo credit: Matt Murphy)

Report from Boston and Tallahassee

I’m grateful for two recent performances that I traveled to hear: Matins was done by Peggy Pearson, oboe, and the Cantata Singers, conducted by David Hoose, in Boston’s Jordan Hall; A Sibyl was performed at the opening concert of the Florida State University Festival of New Music.

The Cantata Singers rehearsed in a hall in a suburb called Melrose:

which did not come close to the gorgeous acoustic of Jordan Hall at the New England Conservatory:

Unfortunately I didn’t get a picture with Peggy, but here I am with David Hoose and an oddly glowing stage behind us:

I had time to do a few other things while in Boston, including my first visit to the Gardner Museum in many years:

 

 

 

 

May I say that the food at the cafe was excellent:

On Friday I heard my first Boston Symphony concert in Symphony Hall (having previously only heard them at Tanglewood):

 

 

The orchestra sounded fabulous as did pianist Martin Helmchen. The Saariaho was consistent with my impressions of much of her work – very beautiful and a little too static for my taste. The Sibelius symphonies continue to baffle me and doing two in a row didn’t help much. The famous acoustics of Symphony Hall actually seemed to me to be a little too rich – good for the Saariaho and Sibelius, but a little blurry for the Mozart.

I lingered in Boston to attend an Emmanuel Music celebration of John Harbison’s 80th birthday. It was good to have another chance to hear his Sixth Quartet, and the evening also included a set of John’s pop songs, with the composer at the piano.

In Florida, the featured guest composer was Georg Friedrich Haas, and I heard a number of his pieces throughout the festival. The music struck me as uneven, severe at times and sensuous at others, a strange mix of fascinating and dull.

My own work, the song cycle A Sibyl was performed by soprano Marcía Porter, and and ensemble of faculty and grad students, with Alexander Jiménez conducting. One festival highlight was a concert by the Meitar Ensemble – guests visiting from Israel – who offered a blazing performance of Grisey’s Talea among other works.

I’m grateful to all who made these performances of my music possible. Next on the schedule is a premiere with the Imani Winds, on February 15 in Philadelphia.

Matins in Boston, A Sibyl in Tallahassee

Two significant performances of my vocal music are coming up in the next several weeks:

  • The Cantata Singers are reviving my Matins later this month, a piece for oboe, strings and chorus that they co-commissioned along with Winsor Music 15 years ago. (This is just the second performance of the piece; here’s hoping somebody takes up the piece for its third performance sooner than 2033.) The fabulous Peggy Pearson, who has been a wonderful champion of my music, commissioning and performing my Oboe Quartet and Oboe Quintet, will be the soloist. I first got to know Peggy and her playing through her work with Emmanuel Music, with whom she masterfully plays the prominent oboe parts in the Bach cantatas performed at Emmanuel Church. Matins, which sets poems of Hopkins and Mary Oliver, will be heard at the New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall, with David Hoose conducting, January 25 at 8 pm. I will give a pre-concert lecture on the whole program, which includes the Bartók Divertimento and the Pärt Te Deum, at 7 pm.
  • A Sibyl, my song cycle on texts written expressly for the project by Susan Stewart, will be on the first concert of the 2019 Florida State University Festival of New Music on January 31. Among the splendid musicians performing my piece are soprano soloist Marcia Porter, conductor Alexander Jiménez, Deborah Bish, clarinet; Nina Kim, violin; Evan Jones, cello;  Justin Ball, percussion; a flutist whose name I don’t yet know; and pianist Heidi Louise Williams, who is at the keyboard for the recent Albany cd featuring my music, Vocalisms, with Mary Mackenzie, soprano. It was Mary who was soloist in the premiere of A Sibyl, performed by Collage New Music and conducted by David Hoose – funny how threads of connection weave together in this business.

Recent Reading

Though some deadlines kept me working very hard over the holidays,  I still found some time to read. My recent reading has included:

  • David Schiff’s new book on Carter. This is a welcome update to Schiff’s earlier books on the composer, insightful and well-written, but rather different in character from the earlier books, delving less into technical matters. There are no musical examples, save for a curious page with a few signature musical motifs Carter has often employed. Who would read a book about Elliott Carter yet be put off by the presence of score notation?  The book is not the full biography that Carter deserves, something like Howard Pollock’s book on Copland – for that, someone will have to, as Schiff notes, go through the 10,000 letters in the Carter files at the Sacher Foundation, as well as do much more. Sometimes the book reads like a series of uncommonly elegant program notes, but it is hard to fault Schiff for not digging deeper; Carter was unbelievably productive in his late years and there is a huge amount of material to discuss. I suppose a book that went into detail about every single piece would become unreadable, more like an encyclopedia or catalog. I was a bit taken aback by how strongly Schiff dislikes the libretto for Carter’s opera What’s Next? – I need to go back and listen to the piece again with his comments in mind.
  • I finally finished Proust’s À la recherche, over 30 years after purchasing the three volume set at Bookforum on Broadway, near Columbia, during my student days. I know it’s a cliché to say “one is never finished reading Proust”, but I do feel that if I returned to Swann’s Way now, it would be with much greater appreciation and understanding. On the other hand, I could certainly use a break. Derwent May’s short volume on Proust increased my enjoyment of the novel, and I recommend it.
  • I loved Everyone at This Party Has Two Names by Brad Aaron Modlin, a volume of poems that made me wince in recognition, smile at its wry humor, and pause thoughtfully over its poignant insights. There’s a text in this volume I want to set before too long, it’s that kind of book.