Friday, March 10, 2006

a week-and-a-half in the life of...

A Week-and-a-Half in the Life of …

Friday, February 24th

I made a trip out to Urbana, Illinois because the Uni. Of Illinois Orchestra was performing my alto flute concerto Three Lamentations on the Death of John Dowland. It was part of the “Midwest Composers Symposium” – an annual event of compositions by student composers from Indiana University, Uni. of Michigan, Uni. of Iowa, Oberlin Conservatory and the Uni. of Illinois. Normally, I would never attend such a “conference” – the biggest reason being that I think composers putting concerts of their music only for other composers is stupid and pointless – BUT, they were doing a big piece, and Kathryn Lukas, the flute prof. from IU was performing the solo part again – I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

I first attended the dress rehearsal of the piece. I have one recording of the piece already that we did with Kate, and an ad-hoc string orchestra that we put together. We did the concert on 2 rehearsals, and they did quite well considering. However, this orchestra was a true ensemble, with a great conductor that had been rehearsing the piece for a month. The dress rehearsal was so incredible, I had to stop myself from crying several times. Keep in mind that this was the very first piece of music I wrote following Mandy’s death. It absolutely contains every emotion I was feeling at the time, and in that performance I could feel everything again. It was one of those moments that make everything worth it – one of those rare moments when a conductor and musicians truly commit to a piece of music and bring it to a new level. It’s a real shame that the dress rehearsal was not recorded, because the performance was just not as good. I mean, it was fine, but it just didn’t have that magic I heard earlier in the day. But, I have the memory, and the final vindication that the piece works in a way that surpasses even my early expectations – the reason being that there were several very new things in the piece – textures and sounds I had not seen elsewhere, and although in my head I was pretty sure it would work, I wasn’t totally sure. Anyway, those moments during the dress rehearsal were some of the most transcendent of my composition career so far.

I should also mention that I got an email from one of my pianists that would play on my recital. He was supposed to play the Hommages for Piano and had committed to the concert in October, and had had the music since that time. He told me that his girlfriend had a problem with her visa (she’s asian) and that he has to leave the country (why he has to leave too I have no idea) and wasn’t sure he would be back for the concert. That was it – just a short email. So now I’m left with the problem, do I just wait and see if he comes back, or do I start looking for replacements? This is less than a week before the concert…

Saturday, February 25th

This was my last day at the Midwest Composers Symposium. On this day, I was asked to be a panelist on a composer panel discussion. I didn’t really know what to expect, but it pretty much turned out to be pointless, basically because it was a room full of composers with their own strong opinions about music and how they should make their own music – each viewpoint as valid as the next – but people trying to convince other composers that they were “sick and tired of functional harmony – why does everything have to make sense?” or “I think we all should criticize each other” or whatever – it was just composers talking. It would have been actually interesting if the panel and audience had consisted of perhaps some performers, and maybe even some regular music appreciators, perhaps we could have gotten some real perspective on things. I was the only composer on the panel that was not born in the mid-west, raised in the mid-west, although I do go to school in the Midwest. The first question to the panel was, “does the American Midwest have its own artistic culture that we can draw from?” Even before the question was finished I started shaking my head “no”. Haha – sorry Midwesterners – it’s true.

Sunday, February 26th

Back in Bloomington – more recital rehearsals for my Wednesday, March 1st DM recital. At 8PM I had the 2nd, and final regular rehearsal for Colors in Silence. The rehearsals for this piece had not been going so incredibly well, and this rehearsal was no exception. I don’t mean that the performers were not performing well – they were doing a great job – the ones that were actually at rehearsal that is. I was getting worried – one, because I had put on a performance the previous semester for the sole purpose of having people come back the next semester, rehearse the piece with new knowledge and rigor, and have a great performance on my recital. Secondly, because my uncle Rex Walton was coming to the concert, and was even doing a reading of his poem before the piece. He is a poet, and I set his poem “and between the colors, a small silence” in Colors in Silence. It was a tribute to his poem, and I felt an enormous amount of pressure to have the piece come off really well. It just seemed like an annoying chore for everyone involved – I didn’t feel any love for the piece from the people involved – it seemed like it was just something they had to do. Despite several people not showing – we did the rehearsal as best we could. We would rehearse again at 7PM the night of the concert in the hall – the first time that everyone would be there, and only an hour before the performance.

As for the Hommages, I decided not to sit around and wait to see if the original pianist would return in time. I came up with the idea of contacting 5 pianists and asking each of them to learn one piece each – then they would all come out on stage at once and take their turn playing whatever piece was theirs. I had contacted a couple of pianists, and one agreed to play the Hommage a Mandy Morris, while another agreed to do the hommages to Kaku and Zappa. Then, I got an email from the original pianist that said he was back (quick trip to Asia I guess…) but that he had not even looked at the pieces yet. This is three days before the concert – he had the music for 5 months! But, I was calm – I asked him if he could play the first two hommages (to Kurosawa and Kushner) – he said yes. Then he told me to meet him on Tuesday to hear the pieces – fine.

Monday, February 27th

Monday I had some rehearsals, and picked up Mu from the airport straight from his Holland adventure. That night, I got yet another horrible pain in my abdomen that kept me up all night. I had a similar pain a week before, and have been having related health issues for at least a year. The first time I had this particular intense pain was around a year ago, and was so bad I drove myself to the emergency room, where they made me wait there in pain for like 4 hours and then just told me I was constipated and sent me on my way. However these issues had been getting worse and more frequent lately, but I just attributed it to the extreme stress from the recital.

Tuesday, February 28th

The final day before the recital – I had some dress rehearsals in the concert hall in the afternoon, and then was supposed to meet the original pianist who was doing the first 2 hommages at 4 o’clock to hear them. So, we do the rehearsals in the hall, everything was great – I walk over to the practice room building to meet the pianist – look all around – nowhere in sight. So, I go home and try to call, email – no response. Unbelievable. I was feeling quite sick because, well for one I was going on no sleep, plus other health issues. We had our last rock band rehearsal that night, and the guys actually stopped it because I looked so bad. But, I was meeting one of the other pianists that took the hommages at the last minute to hear how they were coming. He showed up, and played the last two for me, which he had only had for 2 days. They were already incredible. It absolutely amazes me how some pianists can learn pieces so well so fast. So, I start to tell him about the other pianist – the original one that keeps fucking me over. As if excited, he immediately goes to the piano and starts reading through the first two pieces. Keep in mind – this is 9PM the night before the recital. He reads through them, leans back, and says “I’ll do them”. I was in disbelief, but I of course said OK – problem solved – and I knew he was one of the few that could actually pull this off.

Wednesday, March 1st – Recital Day

I woke up feeling pretty good – not 100%, but good. The concert was at 8PM, and I had the concert hall starting at 6 to do last minute dress rehearsals of Hyper Lassus Daydream and Colors in Silence. We all knew for at least a week that the balance for Hyper Lassus Daydream would be totally off. Mainly because IU’s audio department are just not equipped to mic and mix a rock band – and they never intended a rock band to play in Auer Hall, which is designed for classical music, not loud rock music – so, we just decided to do the best we could and go up there and have fun with it. Colors in Silence was coming together nicely – I heard sections of it as they were rehearsing and it was really coming together, which made me optimistic. Eventually, 8PM came, and the concert started. I’ll give a piece-by-piece run down of my impressions (in concert order):

Hommages for Piano

1&2 – Hommage a Kurosawa and Hommage a Tony Kushner – These were the first two pieces that the new pianist, Hakan Toker, had gotten at 9PM the previous night. I just sat in disbelief as he nailed the pieces, technically and musically, and having only had them less than 24 hours – amazing.

3 – Hommage a Mandy Morris – This was one of the big pressure pieces for me. The other pianist that took this on at the last minute, Kaoru Yamamura, had only gotten it 3 days before. I was feeling a lot of pressure with this piece – I wanted it to go perfectly because I felt that it deserved only that. This was probably the piece on the recital that I had the most emotion wrapped up in. I had used a pop song that Mandy had written as the basis of the piece – it’s truly her and I wrapped up so tightly in this music, it’s sometimes difficult for me to hear. Kaoru played it so beautifully, and so powerfully – it would be pointless to try to describe how I felt – I’m not that good of a writer.

4&5 – Hommage a Michio Kaku and Hommage a Frank Zappa – Hakan returned to play the last two pieces, and as expected ripped the hell out of them. These two pieces were fast and exciting.

Obsidian Soliloquy

This piece was kind of a risk. I wrote it for my good friends John Astaire and Kevin Kishimoto – the instrumentation being cimbalom and theorbo. As far as I know, no one has written any music in the history of humanity for these two instruments together, and they are such unusual instruments that I really had to study and learn them for about a year before I even wrote a single note. They did a really great job with it – I remember when the cimbalom comes in, the sound is like something from another planet – something you’re totally not expecting. I don’t think the audience even heard any music at first – I think it took a minute just to get used to the sound. Unfortunately the cimbalom player is leaving Bloomington for a few months, but hopefully I will be able to do a studio recording by May.

Siùil ò Rùn

I wrote this piece for Jenna Auterson. She sent me a recording of her singing this traditional Irish melody without accompaniment about two years ago. It was so beautiful and unique, I really wanted to try and do a setting. She came down to Bloomington from Terra Haute, Indiana and sang the piece. It was such a great honor to have the person that inspired the piece actually come and be able to sing it. No one could have done it like she did – no one here at IU has the right voice, or has the emotional and personal connection to the music like she does, and it really showed. Kaoru played the piano equally as beautifully. I was so proud of her, and people at the recital were really taken with her and her voice – it was definitely a hit.

Colors in Silence

This was the other big pressure piece on the recital. I honestly had no idea how it was going to go. It was by far the biggest and most complex piece on the recital (13 singers (solo parts), flute, clarinet/bass clarinet, violin, viola, cello, harp, piano). Everyone came out on stage and set up for the performance. My uncle Rex came out and performed a reading of his poem that the piece is based on “and between the colors, a small silence”. I had never heard him do a poetry reading before, but I knew that he’s done a lot of them in his hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska. He was amazing – he had the entire audience absolutely and totally captivated, and by the time he was finished, the entire room, including the performers, were primed to go. It set the stage for what was to become an amazing performance. I don’t know how it happened, but it all came together at precisely the right time, and it was moving, powerful, beautiful, introspective, colorful – it was awesome.

Hyper Lassus Daydream

Rock band at the IU School of Music in Auer Hall – wasn’t quite sure how this was going to go over, but frankly, I didn’t care. I have to say, I put together quite a band. Mike Hanson, pianist – I had just seen him two weeks before perform the Rachmaninoff Paganini Variations as piano soloist with the IU Philharmonic – it was probably the best student piano performance at IU I have seen – and that’s saying a lot. John Astaire, drums – by far the most talented percussionist in this school for a long time – I once saw him play a solo percussion piece, Towards the Precipice by Poul Ruders – a 25 minute tour-de-force of non-stop drumming that if I didn’t see with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have thought it humanly possible. Mutsuhito Ogino, bass – my fellow New Style colleague and also organist – I’ve seen him play such pieces as Bach’s Passacaglia in C minor BWV 582. And then there’s me. I never thought I would find three other people with the criteria I needed to do the piece right – people with classical training and virtuosos on their respective instruments, but who all come from a rock background. We played the shit out of the piece, and Mutsuhito firmly established himself as the greatest rock star in the School of Music. So, the balance was totally fucked – I was too soft, Mu was too loud, the hall turned our sound into mush most of the time, but we had fun up there, and believe me, it’s unusual to see performers on any stage in the school of music actually having fun. It was a profound feeling for me, because it was the last piece I’ll perform on a stage as a student, and performing a rock band piece, I felt I had come full circle back to where I started in the first place.

So, all in all it was a great success, and I’m glad it’s over. It turned out to be a recital full of music that I had either written for people I love, or written to be performed by and with people I love – couldn’t ask for more.

Thursday, March 2nd – Friday, March 3rd

I was feeling really relieved to have the whole recital over with, and my family was still in town, so we kind of hung out during the day – it was nice. That night, the horrible abdominal pain returned, but worse than ever. I called my parents at the hotel and told them to take me to the hospital. I was admitted and diagnosed with chronic gall bladder disease, and it was at a very advanced state. I was basically drugged up through Friday and can’t remember much, but they decided to rush me into surgery on Saturday morning to remove the gall bladder.

Saturday, March 4th

I went into surgery at 9:30 AM. All I remember is being strapped to the operating table, getting the anesthetic, hearing the surgeon ask me some question, and then waking up to find that it was all over. I basically spent the next few days on morphine, which I’m sure was fun, but I don’t really remember. They told me that my gall bladder, which is normally supposed to be about the size of your thumb, was about the size of a grapefruit. I can really feel a difference in my health – like I haven’t felt in years – and I still can’t believe that I was OK to do the recital.

Now, on to the rest of the crap I have to do for this Doctorate…


Rafael Hernandez said...

Gall stones?! I thought it was just the constipation that pusuing a DM at IU causes emotionally and creatively.

So when is "Sedated Palestrina Nightmare" going to be released?

That MWCS panel story is interesting. I can totally picture you up there, your face buried in those big mitts, head shaking back and forth. Why is the Midwest devoid of a cultural tradition, I wonder? Is it because of the lack of good food? Someone actually said they were "sick of functional harmony?!" Was it Powder? Christ, composer conferences are the worst.

A great post: A+

Anonymous said...

when you say that "the midwest is devoid of a cultural tradition" what are you basing that on?

(i should say that i was one of the moderators of that panel discussion -- i was asked to do it by the department)

Anthony Joseph Lanman said...

Did i say that? haha Well, I don't mean to offend anyone from the Midwest - it's just that where I come from and grew up (Houston, Texas) there is a very strong regional culture that comes from a heavy Mexican/Latin American influence - plus the rich history of the region that really permeates everything from the food, to art, to architecture, to music. It's very easy to see it, hear it, smell it and taste it everywhere you go. For me, coming from a culture like that, it's just very hard for me to see the same things in the mid-west. I'm sure it's there, but honestly, I can't see it. Perhaps you could help me see it better? Maybe it's more subtle and I'm just not looking hard enough and I admit that I am being a little hard on the mid-west and a little unfair too.