I composed this piece in two spells, first in January-February 2017, then in November-December. The first version was called Turn, named for the wiggling figure that appears in the tuba part in the 4th measure and suffuses the entire work. In the end, I was unsatisfied with that version, and revisited the piece at the end of 2017 in order to compose a new second half.
In its final form, Incantation plays with the idea of magic – or what appears to be magic – and how a ‘sorcerer’ can capitalize on a chance occurrence to cast a spell over the members of a tribe. The piece is in dialogue with Revueltas’s Sensemaya, a natural starting point given that work’s opening solo for the tuba.
Incantation was commissioned and premiered by the BrassTaps Duo, comprised of Evan Zegiel, tuba, and Anthony DeMartinis, percussion, and sponsored by a consortium of tubists in the University of Michigan tuba studio.
Well, it’s official: I’m a music director again. A full-time conductor at the helm of a performing organization. It’s a group in Seattle (well, two groups in one) called Orchestra Seattle and the Seattle Chamber Singers, an august institution fifty years in the making.
And what’s more, I’m extremely happy about it, though it was not obvious to me that I would again endeavor to fill such a role. For the past two years, I’ve been living the life of a full-time composer/orchestrator and a very part-time conductor. Before that I’d been a music director, an assistant conductor, and a music teacher, mostly all at the same time, and after five years of that, I thought it was time to focus on my composing career (writing / recording / promoting my own music, conducting and performing it, serving as a guest clinician, etc.)
But then this job came open, and it seemed like such an ideal match for my talents and goals that I couldn’t wait to pursue it. And it’s turned out to be true. OSSCS combines the best aspects of a professional, youth, and community groups. Its players and singers take their music-making very seriously and they operate at a pace that keeps things interesting but allows them to go deep into the music.
Programming-wise, it’s a kid in a candy shop situation for me; with a chorus and an orchestra that concertize together as one, the sky’s the limit. I can program a single concert with oratorio, a cappella, symphonic, concertant, and chamber music. It’s about making the most compelling music statement possible and expressing Big Ideas.
I wanted to do something really special for my inaugural season, so I’ve decided to present a retrospective of the music of Lili Boulanger. Here’s the season overview, and here’s a video I made laying out the concept and repertoire:
Of course being a music director comes laden with responsibility. A conductor is the focus of a community, a rabbi, a priest, a teacher, but also a scholar, and a dancer, and a performer. The best ones find a way to be simultaneously a celebrity hovering in the clouds and a mensch walking upon the earth.
A composer, on the other hand, is a kook living alone on an island who crafts meticulous messages and places them in delicate bottles and throws them into a vast, chaotic ocean. It’s a monk-like existence where you can live inside the sound world of your own imagination and not talk to another person for days at a time.
What I’ve found is that I need a little of both if I’m going to stay sane, and that’s why I’m so in love with this job. It roots me in an open-hearted musical community full of artistic possibility, while still allowing me to pursue the composing life of my inner weirdo. I consider myself awfully lucky to be in this situation and I can’t wait to get started.