A 365-Day Project
"We Are All Mozart"
A project to create
The performances of Turn Around, Bustle, and Blaze the past two days were very good, and very well understood, too. The music is for viola, cello, horn and piano. You can hear last night's performance (with Lydia Busler-Blais, horn; Bob Blais, cello; Elizabeth Reid, viola; and Liz Metcalfe, piano) at this link. Here are the program notes to this piece that starts with a Glassian minimalism and moves into sweet melodies and rumptious rhythms:
Autumn and winter are the busy times. Turn around, and they're here again. And under the blankets of leaves and then snow is enormous activity -- one bustles around to keep warm, to make sure the fire is blazing for heat and cooking. The sounds and sense and colors of those seasons are rhythmic but flowing. Out of these thoughts arose "Turn Around, Bustle, and Blaze" -- as well as its play on the names of the musicians who commissioned it. The music rises from the bottom with minimalist scales, a horn calls, and strings answer as the piano joins in. Soon the entire ensemble is pulsing with the bustling of autumn, but simply, always simply. Cold arrives and a frantic feeling overwhelms. Things must be done. Everyone dances inside, harder and harder, to keep the snows from chilling the feet as they blow under the door. The winds blow, the nights grow cold and chill, and at long last winter comes to an end, snow crumbling into mud, the season exhaling its relief and slipping away on cats' feet.
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Now back in time to June, where only At the Edge of Forever was left to talk about. This piece was both a delight and a disappointment ... the latter because the string quartet broke up before the piece was performed (no, the music didn't cause it). This music came together very quickly, and in some ways reaches back through time to the early Nineteen-Nineties, when I composed Ÿçuré for two chamber orchestras. Both are aetherial and isorhythmically based, though Edge of Forever is less strict, more melodic, and with impressionist and jazz harmonies.
Many of the WAAM creations share a feature of Edge of Forever: the sense that they want more, to be longer or to cascade into another piece. This comes to mind because Turn Around also exhibits this "escape pod" with the villain inside that I mentioned in reviewing Alex Shapiro's new CD. As I think about it more, it seems that Mountains of Spices (the premiere performance finally posted) also wants more -- not that seven or eight minutes in each case is too little, but that the underlying ideas are substantive and more opportunities are waiting were there cash enough and time.
The yearning and expectation are at least in part a consequence of WAAM's nature, with pieces commissioned to the dollar, for a given ensemble, with a sense of the performer's desire, and to be composed in a short period of time. That so many compositions, including Edge of Forever, could even have been written in one or two days surprises me in retrospect; but the point is that similarities emerge along with yearnings for more. Edge was apparently the transition point, where I no longer wrote to the dollar, but wrote more, giving measures away. What an odd concept, the whole idea of creating art for money. But that's been it, hasn't it? Taking the capitalist concept down-and-dirty into the process of creating music, defining it by dollars as it's made, not afterwards in some Top 40 marketplace. Three-quarters of the way through, I can only hope that all dimensions of WAAM are discovered including its marketplace challenge, not merely the idea of writing a lot in a year. (The music media have yet to give me hope about this being grasped.)
The name At the Edge of Forever should tingle in the ears of Star Trek fans, because "The City on the Edge of Forever" is considered the finest episode of the original series. There is no parallel meaning in this composition; the title suggests other possibilities, and the composition concludes with the questioning of itself and expectation of more -- somewhere at the edge of forever.
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July would end up being a nightmare month. Early in the year I realized that WAAM wasn't going to fill the calendar, and had put out proposals for work. If you're just coming to this blog, you may not know that I have been what is euphemistically called self-employed since 1979. It's kept me edgy, poor, and always in trouble with the IRS. By July it looked like work would be arriving -- and did it ever. An opera score engraving to be cleaned up, an orchestral score to be done from scratch (really scratch -- in pencil and only fifty percent complete when it arrived with a five-week deadline), a consulting job in Linux-based audio systems, and attention to the Vermont Alliance of Independent Country Stores. And, of course, I couldn't resist the possibility of Michael Manion coming to town during August and having a celebratory percussion concert. So I completed one piece at the beginning of the month: Fanfare:Heat for large orchestra -- and youth orchestra at that.
Troy Peters is a composer and conductor of the Vermont Youth Orchestra, which through adept and dogged entrepreneurship, he brought from a motley student group to a megalopolis of young peoples' orchestras and ensembles throughout Vermont, ultimately performing at Carnegie Hall. Troy has always supported my music and even did a few performances of Sourian Slide -- including one on First Night in 2002 while a noisy and anxious crowd waiting for the logging comedian Rusty deWees entirely obliterated the sound -- but he never had the opportunity to commission something for the group. WAAM was that opportunity.
Writing for a youth orchestra demands special attention, and you can't think about it much ahead of time. Not until auditions are held does the ensemble's composition become known. Troy outlined the strengths and limitations of his incoming musicians, and that left a week to finish the music. Troy wanted a curtain-raiser, but it also had to feature harp and piano, horns and other brass, and percussion -- without giving too little attention to winds or strings. So it became a microscopic fantasy for instrumentaiton, with themes tossed around inside changing rhythms, making it dance and swing in a kind of Milhaud way ... always keeping in mind the fanfarey curtain-raiser feel it had to provide. Here, listen to the electronic demo. The piece is already on the VYO's calendar for 2008. Those kids are really a thrill to work with.
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That's it for tonight. I am behind a few pieces, including a clarinet solo that will be a knockout. So I might be absent for a few days to catch up.
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I promised the journal from our residency in Nodar. Here is the tenth installment. Please write to me if you want a copy of the full journal in PDF format with photos.
Sunday through Monday, April 29-30
It's been a wild last few days, completing this project. This catch-up begins sitting in the airport in Porto, waiting for an on-time flight that has not yet arrived.
Breakfasts and lunch and dinner were non-stop; after a few minutes' work would go by, it seemed, and it was time for another lunch or another dinner or another something to eat or drink. The birds called morning and night, the goat and sheep bells rang, and storms came in and swept out. Manuela laughed, Luis kept trying on his Texas accent, and cats came and went.
Tuesday became a blur. Stevie continued to pore over photos and I shuffled audio into a soundscape. To catch some air, Stevie walked to the pharmacy for pain pills in the afternoon, and also helped Manuela create a great mass of gnocchi for dinner, which also included eggplant with beef in sauce, bread, and wine. The night is typically late; everyone is once again head-to-screen.
Wednesday, April 25
Stevie cooked the second American breakfast, with pancakes and maple syrup. In the evening, the car was finally brought to another of Luis's cousins, who would take it to Viseu the next day--meaning our hoped-for trek to the Douro wouldn't happen. And we wondered if what would return from Viseu would be, say, just a headlight with apologies.
Wednesday was the anniversary of the Carnation Revolution, where the military overthrew the dictatorship of Marcelo Caetano (who had succeeded António de Oliveira Salazar), and quickly instituted a liberal democracy. Portugal was being cast off by its colonies, and change was apparently drastic. Luis told us the story, and played the revolutionary song, as well as the E depois do adeus by Paulo de Carvalho (Portugal's entry in the Eurovision Song Contest!), which was the signal for the military to move in. Caetano gave up power in a few hours. The first free election since 1933 was held a year later, on April 25th.
Thursday, April 26
Pizza was on the menu for Thursday. We all went with Luis up to Parada for local cheese, sausage, more flour (not integral this time, just white), a bucket of olives, cookies for me, all at the Pinto Minimarcado. The car wasn't ready yet, and we came back for pizza-making and editing. Stevie created the dough, set it to rise, sliced up the sausage, and went back to work on the project.
All the cats have become brazen. Miecha is feeling better and defending the house against any cat or dog who comes nearby; meanwhile, both Stevie and Manuela offered milk to Tia's thin and spooky grey cat (just the grey cat with no name), who has a long, singing yowl. Manuela gave her bread, too. Ladrone has been slipping in, and while Stevie was working on the project, Ladrone stole nearly half of the sliced sausage and was chased away with great whoops by Manuela.
Stevie and I independently created text we'd hope could be read by the women of Nodar featured in the presentation. We were working on transitions of perception. A few days earlier I had taken a photo of a moth whose camouflage was almost perfect, blending into the granite of the house. It was a metaphor for how our project had developed, reflecting how we all forget what surrounds us. I wrote:
In the meantime, Stevie was exploring the meaning and integration of home and song. She wrote:
We translated the texts with a combination of dictionaries, and asked Luis to fix them up for us, and asked Donzília, Nazaré, Piedade, and Tia to read them. He figured it was best if just the first two read, as Piedade had been generally reluctant and it wasn't Tia's style. Our combined translation of the first read:
The second fell out this way:
Donzília was nervous, but delighted to read; we did two takes. Nazaré was sorting melon seedlings with Fernando, and then read the texts for us. Her readings came more easily, but had the feel of ritual. Both were very nice, and we wandered back to the house.
Before dinner, we drove up to Parada for the car. There it was--not only the bumper was fixed, but every scratch and dent had been carefully pulled out and painted. The only worry was whether the rental company would be concerned that the car was in better shape than when it was rented. No matter. Our concerns were relieved, and I drove happily back to Nodar with a shiny grey car--and a bill for a mere twenty euros.
Pizza was delicious, with wine of course, followed by pineapple with whipped nata for dessert. Sometime during the day, Aaron's wife Bronwyn arrived, and I had a déjà vu shiver--she looked and sounded precisely like Jo Ann Giordano, fabric artist and friend from the Trans/Media days ... or at least like Jo Ann did the last time we saw her, some fifteen years ago. Rui and Karla also arrived from Lisbon; she is a teacher of English and French, and it's hard to tell if she's shy or distant for other reasons. We had brief conversations all around, but there was so much work to be done that Stevie and I retired immediately to the computers again.
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