Harmonia 2022–2023: “Dialogue”

Details and tickets!

Balance

MENOTTI Amelia al ballo Overture
BARBER Violin Concerto
BEYER, Huntley World Out of Balance (world premiere oratorio)

Unfinished

SCHUBERT Symphony no. 7 in B minor
MOZART Requiem (Süßmeyr completion)

Messiah

HANDEL Messiah

Concord & Discord

BRISTOW, Sheila When Music Sounds (world premiere)
KECHLEY, Robert Hard Times: Antiphonal Conversations (world premiere)
BACH Magnificat

Symphonic Legacies

STILL Poem for Orchestra
MASON Symphony No. 5 (“Harmonia”)
STILL Threnody in Memory of Jean Sibelius
SIBELIUS Symphony No. 3

Choral Echoes

A mix of choral works grouped in pairs: by Purcell & White; C. Schumann & Brahms; Tavener & Britten; Esmail & Kim; others TBD

Hope & Joy

GARCIA Vast Array
PRICE Song of Hope (West Coast premiere)
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 9

Euro Tour 2022

I’m just back from Europe and wanted to collect a few thoughts here. This was a mixed work/pleasure trip, the main event being a London recording of my Concerto for Choir, an a cappella piece in seven movements that I composed during the final days of the pre-vaccine era. I will have much more to say about this later.

My itinerary included stops in the UK, France, Switzerland, Germany, and the Netherlands. I heard a couple of Proms concerts and two performances at the Concertgebouw, including a phenomenal new piece called The Redcrosse Knight by the young Dutch composer Xavier van de Poll. I also saw a play in Frankfurt. And most happily, I visited old friends and met new ones.

Here are some tweet threads I did about visiting the Ravel house museum, the city of Bonn (a Beethoven town that’s secretly a Schumann town), and visiting the grave of Arthur Schopenhauer.

Before crossing the Atlantic, I stopped in New York for a different recording project, where I got to see Into the Woods during its limited run on Broadway after transferring from City Center (superb, especially the orchestra) and an American Symphony Orchestra concert at Carnegie Hall (about which, more below in the Gabfest episode.)

Then it was a week-long stint guest teaching at the Pierre Monteux School. This invitation came in the wake of the passing of my dearly beloved teacher, Michael Jinbo, so it was both thrilling and surreal at the same time. I taught Brahms’ 3rd symphony, Lili Boulanger’s D’un matin de printemps, Rachmaninoff’s 3rd symphony, and two of the movements of Dvorak’s 7th. Can’t ask for much better than that.

Much of these travels were memorialized on… what else? The Classical Gabfest!

In the middle segment, Tiffany and I discuss Pierre Monteux’s Rules for Young Conductors. I’ve gone ahead and posted them here, since they’re a bit challenging to find online.

Pierre Monteux’s Rules for Young Conductors

RULES FOR YOUNG CONDUCTORS

by Pierre Monteux

EIGHT “MUSTS”

  1. Stand straight, even if you are tall.
  2. Never bend, even for a pianissimo. The effect is too obvious behind.
  3. Be always dignified from the time you come on stage.
  4. Always conduct with a baton, so the players far from you can see your beat.
  5. Know your score perfectly.
  6. Never conduct for the audience.
  7. Always mark the first beat of each measure very neatly, so the players who are counting and not playing know where you are.
  8. Always in a two-beat measure, beat the second beat higher than the first. For a four-beat bar, beat the fourth higher.

TWELVE “DON’TS”

  1. Don’t overconduct; don’t make unnecessary movements or gestures.
  2. Don’t fail to make music; don’t allow music to stagnate. Don’t neglect any phrase or overlook its integral part in the complete work.
  3. Don’t adhere pedantically to metronomic time — vary the tempo according to the subject or phrase and give each its own character.
  4. Don’t permit the orchestra to play always a boresome mezzo-forte.
  5. Don’t conduct without a baton; don’t bend over while conducting.
  6. Don’t conduct solo instruments in solo passages; don’t worry or annoy sections or players by looking intently at them in “ticklish” passages.
  7. Don’t forget to cue players or sections that have had long rests, even though the part is seemingly an unimportant inner voice.
  8. Don’t come before the orchestra if you have not mastered the score; don’t practice or learn the score “on the orchestra.”
  9. Don’t stop the orchestra if you have nothing to say; don’t speak too softly to the orchestra, or only to the first stands.
  10. Don’t stop for obviously accidental wrong notes.
  11. Don’t sacrifice ensemble in an effort for meticulous beating — don’t hold sections back in technical passages where the urge comes to go forward.
  12. Don’t be disrespectful to your players (no swearing); don’t forget individuals’ rights as persons; don’t undervalue the members of the orchestra simply because they are “cogs” in the “wheels.”

What kind of piece is this?

Seriously, I’m looking for an answer

My latest piece is called The Muses. I’d love to tell you what genre it falls into, but I honestly don’t know. Hence this blog post.

To get the ball rolling, here’s how The Muses works: the piece is for chorus & orchestra, and it sets to music an Ancient Greek text by the 1st century historian Diodorus Siculus. The text gives a background summary of the nine muses of Greek myth. Each muse is named along with her area of specialty (music, dance, history, etc.), followed by a short etymological description of what the name means.

Men have given the Muses their name from the word muein, which signifies the teaching of those things which are noble and expedient and are not known by the uneducated. For the name of each Muse, they say, men have found a reason appropriate to her:
Cleio is so named because the praise which poets sing in their encomia bestows great glory (kleos) upon
those who are praised…

Before Diodorus launches into the list of the nine names, he starts with a brief discourse on the word “muse” itself. Of course, that’s where my piece starts, and that first bit becomes the introduction to the nine episodes that constitute the piece.

Given the shape of this text, I considered writing a theme and variations, one variation for each of the muses, but I scrapped that idea when the text didn’t want to coalesce into a clear “theme” (i.e. a single, singable melody.) The introduction, which would have been a “theme” became more of a “thematic field” with melodic bits that I immediately started to develop.

But I didn’t give up on the idea entirely. Which is to say that those melodic bits from the opening section became the basis for MOST of the music in each of the episodes. But each episode also has some stuff that’s new, and occasionally I re-used material that was introduced in one episode in a later episode.

So, you could call this piece a “thematic field and development episodes” but that doesn’t really have much of a ring to it. The next best thing I could come up with was “tone poem for chorus and orchestra.” And I suppose that it might be considered a tone poem, but I’m hesitant to call it one because usually in tone poetry there is a dramatic element, i.e. something happens. (Consider z.B. Dvorak’s The Wood Dove or Strauss’s Don Juan.)

Another thing that it might be but it’s not is a “choral symphony.” I would put something like Rachmaninoff’s The Bells in this group. The Muses is just one movement and has no symphonic impetus behind it.

Now that I’ve ruled all those out, I think I might have put my finger on it. You know what this piece really is? It’s a ballet chanté. It should have been obvious to me that I was writing a dance piece without the dance given that it was a response to Daphnis et Chloé. And yet, someone I didn’t realize it. But I’ll tell you how I figured it out:

Not two months ago, a conductor friend called to tell me that he was planning to perform my Recollected Dances as a ballet with his company in the suburbs of Seattle. I went to the performance and I fell in love with it. It worked incredibly well, and it’s made me realize that a ton of my music (maybe all of it?) would benefit from a choreographic treatment.

The Muses would just work SO WELL as a ballet, and I think that many smaller companies would love it. It’s basically got nine solos for nine ballerinas, any of which could easily be supported by the corps. And there’s no obvious reason it needs to include boys (but there’s no reason it couldn’t) so I think it’s pretty flexible and would play to many company’s strengths.

So I guess this post turned from a plea for help into an exhortative advertisement to regional ballet companies. That’s blogging for you!

Precariously overexposed in the podcast space

One of the great pleasures of having your own podcast is that you get to go on other people’s podcasts. It’s a whole ecosystem out there, and we’re all in it together!

I get a little hyper when I go on other people’s shows because I’m usually talking about myself or my work, subjects upon which I am but rarely asked to opine. On my show The Classical Gabfest, the whole point is that my cohosts and I don’t talk about ourselves, we talk about music and news. Of course our personal lives come through in little glimpses, and I quite like that. It’s good to get to know someone slowly.

But, if you are curious to hear my thoughts on conducting, composing, and non-classical music…

Creative Baggage

This is an interview show wherein artistic guests talk about the professional demons that have haunted them along their career paths. We had the hosts on our show in January, at which time Kensho and Tiffany and I revealed a bit about our ups and downs and bumps along the road.

In my episode, I ended up talking more abstractly about the conducting profession as a whole, but I definitely got into some of my own stuff. I think it was a good conversation.

Moveable Do

Also an interview podcast, this time specifically for composers. The host, Steve Danielson, is a choral conductor and composer so the guests mainly come from the choral world. He’s had one some pretty well-known figures, Jake Runestad being a standout example.

I really like the structure of this show. In the first half, Steve asks the composer about their musical background and career; in the second half, he plays four representative works (chosen by the composer) and has a little discussion about how each fits into their output and artistry.

I chose my works based on whom I perceived his audience to be — mainly choral music aficionados — so I started off with a very old choral piece (which I still quite like) and then moved onto brass music (a movement from The Dwarf Planets), my piano sonata, and Acadia Fanfare.

On another show (or a different day) I might have chosen four different works, but I think these ones serve their purpose quite well.

Putting It Together

I’ve become something of a fixture on Kyle Marshall’s podcast dedicated to the work of Stephen Sondheim and I always have a great time going on the show. I think my earlier appearances were much more hyper, and now I’ve settled into myself when we talk.

In my most recent episode, we talked about what is easily the most fucked up song in the very fucked up (and completely perfect in every way) Sweeney Todd. It’s pretty wild!

The Classical Gabfest

Did you think I wasn’t going to include my own show in this little list? Not bloody likely! We just did another All-Games Extravaganza this week, and those tend to be very popular with our hardcore user base, so here it is: