Premiere of “Four Poets”

May 12, 2006

Last night (May 12, 2006) my new string quartet, “Four Poets” was premiered in Palo Alto by the Ives Quartet. The audience, largely grey-haired open minded music lovers, filled half of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church to hear Charles Ives’ String Quartet No.1, my piece, intermission, and then the first Mendelssohn quartet. The group sounded terrific.

The Ives piece established a kind of Americana momentum to the concert, bookended on the first half by my “EMILY” for string quartet, banjo (I played), and bass. Everyone smiled in the audience through this little mountain song, although one woman came up to me later and said “I loved your quartet.” I thanked her and asked about the encore “Emily” to which she said “naww, I liked the quartet.” I was honored to have a violist and composer come up to me giving me their compliments, quietly, as though they didn’t want anyone to hear them. Ardis Bourland and her partner Phyllis were happy as proud godparents (Ardis co-commissioned the piece.)

Another interesting resonance, Ardis’ father, Roger (my grandfather), knew Charles Ives, called him “Charlie” and had no idea he was a musician. “He was a mighty fine insurance man” he said.

When composers listen to their works being premiered, I call it “the expectant father syndrome” where all you can do is watch your wife have the baby, and “be there” for her. She does all the work. Likewise with a premiere. Some of you may remember that commercial for Maxell tape (I think) where this dude in sunglasses braces himself in an arm chair facing a pair of speakers blaring at him. His hair is blowing back as though the sound waves where blowing his hair.

© Hitachi Maxell Ltd. Courtesy Don Coffman

That’s the way it feels hearing your piece be born. Time is completely warped. A beautiful passage gives me an ecstatic rush, one teeny little mistake is amplified a hundredfold; a passage that I know will be too sentimental for some of my modernist colleagues makes me blush profoundly. It’s truly a biochemical roller coaster. The piece matured from their final rehearsal to the first performance and was excellent. “Four Poets” will be performed again tonight in San Jose.

Oh yeah, my banjo performance was ok. Some said they couldn’t hear it too well. I didn’t use fingerpicks so the sound was quieter, which was what I wanted. Like a harpsichord, tinkling away as an accompanimental continuo. None of the quartet had ever played with a banjo, so I was happy to have provided their first taste.

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