Friday, May 26, 2017

String Quartet No 4

It didn't take long to make a string quartet out of Labyrinth. In the end, I went back to the three main movements, and discarded the interludes. The middle and last movements are a straight transcription, but I made more extensive changes to the first movement. I took some things out that I didn't think would work with a quartet. They may stay in the double concerto, because there are more instruments to create the effect that I wanted in the octet.

I've sent the result to a quartet, as well as a competition. They wanted a recording, which isn't possible at this point, since I don't have a performance scheduled. I did, however, spend some time trying to make the audio file from Sibelius work. Until now, I haven't tried the quartertone playback plugin. I seems to work, except that sometimes the pitch bend doesn't turn off, and you get whole passages a quartertone out. I got around it by going back and inserting a lot of redundant OFF messages until it sounded right.

So what is next? If there is any interest in the quartet, I might go back and typeset/revise my first three quartets and publish them as a set. No. 3 is "quartertone city." It's a protracted progression in C major with quartertones thrown in to obscure it. I initially wrote it for a competition that wanted pieces in sonata form in C major. I don't think they were expecting this. In any case, I lost the info about the competition and never sent it in. The Aureole Quartet premiered it, but no one ever sent me the recording. No. 2 was never performed. I started it as my first quartet, and it has loads of textural layers. The quartet that it was intended for was in the process of disbanding, and they didn't really spend much time on it when they "read it down." The first quartet has a lot of really cool effects in it, but I need to go back and revise the things that weren't cool.

That's something to think about, but I need to write something new, perhaps the wind ensemble piece or the songs. I'll have a better idea when I learn what my typesetting load will be this summer. I should find that out on Monday, when my main editor gets back from his holiday/study-leave.

I could, of course, write some fiction, which is something I do, when I don't have any pressing composing to do. Let's see where the inspiration comes from.

Monday, May 22, 2017


Considering the consequences of that horrible day last week, I've been thinking about what I need to do to move things along in my career, at least to a point that I can feel comfortably satisfied about where I'm going.

Yes, I need to write some music. In the short term, I'm looking at some of the projects from a previous blog. Since much of Labyrinth was conceived as a string quartet, I've been revisiting it. I've pared down most of the first movement and the last third of the finale movement. I will probably drop the interludes - the second one would work fine, but the first one would need to be either solo violin, or have the piano accompaniment scored. I could do that and make a real movement out of it. That would give the quartet the traditional 4 movements. I want to enter it in a competition, so whatever I do, it will have to happen quickly. The big question is how much different I want to make it from the other piece. At the moment, it is a straight reduction. I might make some changes in the first movement, but the middle movement and finale will probably be reductions. I wouldn't be the first person to rescore larger works for smaller forces.

Anyway, the real reason for this blog is a recording. I need to get my music out there, and I would like to do it in a quality way: a real orchestra, with multiple takes and well-edited. It's going to be a while before Labyrinth is committed to CD, but as I consider myself an orchestral composer, I should be looking in that direction.

The first thing I'll need to do before I apply for grants, etc., or set up a crowd-funding campaign will be estimating costs.

To do that, though, I need to decide repertoire, and that is where I'll need some input.

1. Should it be a CD solely of my music, or should I get other composers involved?

Option A: I do have some friends who are pretty major composers who could be the "name" on the CD to help sell it. If I stick with American, that would limit me a little, but it might help with grant applications. I could consider recording one of my arrangements of Nørgård that haven't been recorded, which brings me to the next issue: a soloist. Helle Nacht and Between have been recorded, the later of which will probably be released next year. A chamber version (I think) of Remembering Child was recorded this year, which was basically the original version with a one on a part strings, not my sinfonietta version. There is an orchestra that may be touring with it this year, but it is probably too close to the other recording, especially as it would probably be with the same soloist. Cantica Concertante hasn't been performed, so that is another possibility. Otherwise, there are a few British composers that I would consider including. Then it would be a matter of choosing one or two of my pieces.

Option B: This is where I need more input. Do I go with pieces that have been performed, which I am confident that would have some appeal, or do I record new pieces that have not yet been performed? New pieces would be Symphony No. 3, Chaos, and possibly the Labyrinth Concerto. I probably wouldn't want to go with two concertos because of the cost (three different soloists). Those three are about 65 minutes of music altogether. As I don't have a good full recording of my two old pieces and one new. I've got 3 people who know From Her Husband's Hand (17'), one of whom lives not too far away. Then add Symphony No 3 (25').

2. That's all likely to be expensive. I could go smaller. My Dante Tryptich is about 30' long and while all three movements have been performed, none of the chamber orchestra versions have been, except for Paradiso, which has been done in a slightly altered sinfonietta version. Perhaps that, along with some of my other large chamber pieces (Chaos Theory, The Master's Hammer), and maybe Oyre's Garden. (Full orchestra with a small woodwind section.) A Point of Amber Light or From Her Husband's Hand could fit as the concerto. (Or Cantica Concertante.)

3. Forces. I think it would be a waste of money if there was no name recognition. I know someone in the Cincinnati Symphony, so I have a contact there. I have similar relationships with other orchestras here and in the UK, but the Cincinnati Symphony is local, and the recording engineer I have in mind has recorded them on several occasions. I know several people in Symphoria (formerly the Syracuse Symphony), but there wouldn't be much name recognition there. That might be the cheap option, though, unless I went overseas. If we did the Nørgård, I could probably use the New Music Orchestra of Poland, since the soloist is touring with them soon.  They are a sinfonietta, so they would be suitable for the chamber orchestra disc, if that was the way I ultimately went. I don't really want to go with the Vienna Modern Masters or something like that, or with a university orchestra. (I know a couple of people who might read this have some experience with them.) Having an all-American cast would open up more grant money.

4. Conductor. Yes, I could do it, but I think having a full-time professional conductor would result in better use of rehearsal time. I have an idea whom I want, but he isn't American. I have to think about it. If we do Sym No. 3, maybe I could convince the dedicatee to come out of retirement for it. (He might even read this blog.) Soloists, I'm pretty set on.

5. Pipe dream. I would rather think of this as "Blue Sky" thinking. We are probably talking a 6-figure investment, and I probably won't achieve that much in a crowd-funding campaign. If I can get half of that, I might be able to get a grant body to match it.

OK, so I need your input at this point. Let me know your thoughts, either here or on Facebook, or by email.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

What next?

Well, Labyrinth and Dystopian Sunrise (with Clouds) have been premiered, although I haven't yet heard the latter. The arrangement of Inner Sanctum premieres on Friday.

What next? I have some long term projects on the back burner:

1. Temps - an extended work for Messiaen quartet. It will include some movements from Labyrinth and Time Knot, as well as a clarinet solo movement that was originally planned for Labyrinth, but was left out, since I planned to feature Violin and Cello (because I planned on turning it into a double concerto).

2. Labyrinth Concerto - this is the double concerto for sinfonietta/chamber orchestra based on Labyrinth. I have already created a straight transcription, but I'm trying to decide if I should expand it at all. It's very difficult to re-envision an already finished work, so I'm not sure if I want to go there. I might add some improvised cadenzas. I'm consulting with possible soloists, but it may be complete as it stands.

3. A Mighty Fortress - I have a re-harmonization of JS Bach's chorale ready, however, after the original modulates, my harmonic system doesn't work so well. I need to find a way to deal with modulation - or do I? Re-harmonizing someone else's 4-part harmony into my 6-part harmony seems like an academic exercise. Is it one worth doing? The piece is for wind ensemble, if I do it.

4. Song Cycle - I have someone who wants me to write a song cycle, possibly based on my own poetry. Dare I? I've tried to do it before, and never finished any of the songs I started.

... I take that back. I already have two songs out there based on original poetry - very early original poetry that is very embarrassing. One of the songs is decent, though.

5. Orchestra piece. I have some sketches for an orchestra piece, but I left the orchestra for which I was writing it, and shelved it. I want to write more for orchestra, but I don't want to spend that much time on it, if I don't have a destination for it, especially since Symphony No 3 and Chaos, still haven't been performed, not to mention the chamber orchestra versions of my Dante tryptich (3 Pieces for Chamber Orchestra). This is where my compositional heart is, but why should I spend my time on something that may never get performed?

6. There are also fragments of a piano concerto - or two? I have the beginning of one with chamber orchestra, and fragments of one with full orchestra. I wanted to start a concerto from scratch when I was working on my commission, only to struggle for inspiration. Chaos was more piano concerto than wind ensemble piece, so I re-scored it for orchestra and finished it as a concerto, leaving the other concerto materials on the cutting room floor.

7. Piano piece(s) - It's probably time for me to write one. I have a couple of former students as well as a few other friends who might be willing to play it.

8. String Quartet (No. 4) - I was really thinking string quartet in the 3rd and 5th movements of Labyrinth. I could easily arrange them for quartet, and provide a couple of more movements.

The only problem with all this is that there are no commissions there - or even promises of performances (except maybe the songs). Having just completed an extended period of commissions, I find myself hitting a wall. Until I become better known at UC, I won't have anyone here asking me for music.

So is there anyone out there who wants a piece, either one of the above or something else? All offers considered.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Sitting down

As I'm sitting here exhausted, I've finished all my current commissions and am in that nervous time while the performers are rehearsing - probably finding that the pieces are each in their own way almost impossible to play. The arrangement of Inner Sanctum is a known entity, at least. The strings playing Labyrinth are going to hate me for the fast and frenetic final movement. The cellos in Dystopian sunrise are going to gasp for air from the stratospheric heights of their parts.

In the interim I'll start a new job, plan my new courses, do my UK taxes, and move in to our new house. We are halfway there. Somehow I'm going to have to figure out how to fit into my new (smaller) office, possibly the smallest one I've had, except for the 8x8' room I had in Saxmundham - but I was also renting a larger office in a nearby business center at the time. I'm nearly set up, but I have no idea where my books are going ... and the stereo. That's probably going down in the living room, but it may be too big.

Still much to do, but my body hurts, and it's only a few days until Christmas. Presents? Are you kidding? We haven't had time to think about them.

I'm ready for an early night.

Saturday, December 3, 2016


As I am sitting here (instead of going to bed), the score to Labyrinth is printing. All I have left is to proof and extract parts.

Even with a long lead time, most of the composition came down to the wire. I've been so busy with this semester and my move to Cincinnati, that I basically lost all my weekends. I don't think I've ever composed so quickly, and speaking of quick, the last movement is ridiculously fast with a lot of notes. It probably can't be played as quickly as the tempo I've marked, but I'm hoping the performers can prove me wrong. It's a very different beast than I originally envisioned, but I think it's good.

Premiere: Jan. 22 at 2 pm - Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, NY

Monday, August 15, 2016

I was thinking today. (Not to be recommended.) I was trying to come up with some monster courses for non-music majors, but that morphed into odd dissertation topics. Here are a few of them:

Smoke on the Water: Autobiography and Social Discourse in the Lyrics of Deep Purple.

Dysfunction: Harmonic Apathy in mid-20th Century Art Music.

Let's Make Music Great Again: The Fall and Fall of the Arts and Culture in Public Schools.

Do you have any ideas?

Monday, June 6, 2016

Into the Labyrinth ...

... well, that title is taken, but I'm finally working on my SNM commission: Labyrinth, for fl, cl, tpt, pf, and string quartet. It was going to be two movements separated by an interlude/cadenza. As I started working, it was clear to me that it had to be three movements separated by interludes. I wanted to write a six-part chorale setting, and it wasn't going to be a significant movement, so it will be part of a short middle movement.

The plan is to make it a mini double concerto, featuring violin and cello, but at this point in time the interludes will feature other instruments, probably trumpet and flute. Why? That's a long explanation, but I'll give you the short version. Last year, when I derived the sets for it, I wrote a short clarinet quartet, Time Knot, which was eventually going to be part of Labyrinth, a 9-movement monster with a solo movement for each instrument. That could easily balloon to a piece larger than my 18-20 minute commission. I've written the opening movement for clarinet, and a little of the second movement, but all that material was based on 6-notes sets (and a row divided into layers).

When I started Labyrinth, I opted for sets of 5 and 7 notes, based on the same row. They classify into functional units better than 6-note sets. Now, there is nothing saying that I have to use the same divisions for all the movements, but I want to use them differently, and I'm not convinced that they will fit together. I also wanted to use larger structures, which won't work in a piece of nine 1-3' movements.

Hence, the old Labyrinth is now Temps, which I'll work on when I am motivated and have time (no pun intended).

So why have interludes for trumpet and flute in a quasi-double concerto for violin and cello? I'm worried that violin and cello interludes will be too similar to Temps. Flute and trumpet are instruments that aren't in the other piece. I want the interludes to not be musically significant. Instead, they are active silence between movements and a break for the soloists. I may also have a free accompaniment in the piano (music not specifically synchronized with the soloist, more of a accompanimental texture). That may still change, but I'm almost finished with the draft of the first movement, so I'll have to make a decision on the first interlude soon.

Of course, I don't have to compose in order, but it just happens that the other movements are less fully-formed in my mind, and working from the beginning usually helps solidify them. In fact, the idea of the accompanied solo interlude came only as I was writing this article. We'll see what happens ultimately. It all may change as the draft coalesces.

I've also been asked for a quartet or quintet version of the piece for another performance, for which I might change or remove the interludes.

Stay tuned ...