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Monthly Archive: September 2013


The townships of my mind

Posted on Monday, September 16, 2013


I remember Nico Muhly's post about how individual pieces might or might not represent your 'larger Project' struck a chord with me, and its something I still reflect on quite often.


...it is interesting and important to think about the scale of the work that you’re doing and how it relates, in a sense, to the greater Projects that you have going on. I know that one of my major problems as a composer is that I used to feel, instinctively, that each piece had to fully represent (even in fleeting miniatures) all the aspects of my Whole Thing.

Part of this is lack of self-control that I know will come with maturity but another part of this is, I think, insecurity about mounting that tiny puppet show when there's a big city to explore "wouldn't everybody rather just get a really fast car and have a whole tour of the whole city and I'll just talk really fast and tell you everything I know about every building we pass!?!?!?!" Obviously, not so much; this sort of mania is pleasurable for about five minutes, and then it gets boring. My big goal for the last year and for the upcoming year is to really get this under control: the ability to let go of feeling the need to play audio tourguide in my own music, and allowing each piece to live in its own autonomous township within the whole country, as it were.


In my early 40s now, I'm still trying to get a grasp myself on the full extent of my compositional 'city' - maybe that will always be the case, and in my old age I'll start building an entirely new suburb. For now, I think of my city stretching across from something that sounds almost completely like folk-music, right across to the more modernist G.Benjamin/H.Birtwistle districts of my training. I definitely moved to the opposite side of town to those guys for a while, and my catalogue of pieces-I'm-happy-to-have-performed-again is dominated by the strongly folk-influenced side of town. My new piece for the Silk Road Ensemble which premieres at Carnegie Hall on 16th Oct falls squarely into this category. Each movement has a directness, a simplicity and a certain folky rawness which I've come to make my own.

Whereas Night Parade, my new piece for San Diego Symphony (also at Carnegie on 29th Oct after premieres in San Diego) is the first time in a few years that I've moved a little closer to the other end of town, with definite echos of George Benjamin and Thomas Ades, whose recent piece Totentanz was something of a marvel at this year's proms.

If anything, I am cursed by an inner-modernist who nags me when I write my more folky pieces that I should be skulking in the darkest parts of Modernistown. But I think this partly comes from an overly earnest atmosphere in the composition world, and the sense that anything fun can't be any good. This is, needless to say, an attitude I reject absolutely.

Having said that, I can't help feeling probably the most proud I've ever felt about a piece when it comes to Night Parade. If the pieces from Piosenki through to The Firework Maker's Daughter represent my most folk-influenced phase, I've established that side of my city pretty well now, and I'm excited now to be setting up stall in this related but new district.

***

I should also mention, as if those two performances weren't enough Carnegie Hall for one month, that October also brings the premiere of my Carnegie-commissioned song cycle for Kelley O'Connor, That Time With You. This piece premieres in Berkeley October 13th and then comes to Carnegie's Zankel Hall - somewhat infuriatingly - on the same night as Night Parade! With a New York premiere in both Stern and Zankel on the same night, Oct 29th is definitely my Carnegie-take-over night! The songs set some hauntingly beautiful lyrics by my Firework collaborator Glyn Maxwell, although these represent a much darker side to our collaboration. The eminent Robert Spano accompanies. I may spend the evening running up and down stairs, but one way or another, I hope to see you there!




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