Hearing two premieres

February 23, 2007

I’m just back from hearing FOUR MARIAN SONGS and FLIGHT INTO EGYPT premiered by Juliana Gondek and friends. I’m still very high from it. Juliana sang with great authority, expression, passion, and musicality. How did I get so lucky to have her fall in love with my songs!

The Marian songs were powerful as a set. Lots of tears around where I was sitting. I took it as a compliment that you could have heard a pin drop between songs. No coughing, shuffling, whispering, just in a state. As I like to say, music is a drug and I’m fairly certain that people liked the drug of the piece.

FLIGHT went by like a whirlwind for me, so I can’t really judge what the perception was. People laughed where they were supposed to, and the piece was performed well. It’s a multisectioned piece that IS a lot to take in on one hearing, and I think we’re still figuring out “how it goes.” Violinist Lorenz Gamma pointed out that I had scored his part too loud, it interfered with the voice. Most of the mezzo fortes in his part turned into mezzo pianos and pianos. Listening to performers is the most important thing a composer can do. I don’t take all their advice, but I always take it very seriously.

The balance of this ensemble is tricky to be sure: piano trio, 2 sopranos and a baritone. I’ve written for piano trio and have written tons of chamber music, but when you put three voices in front of this ensemble, the reality changes. My instrumental parts were busy and not at all oom pah pah accompanimental parts. They are satisfying parts, typical of chamber music.

The louder the violin is, the louder it’s overtones are, and the more those overtones interfere with the sopranos. Lorenz brought the volume down to the right level and the blend was right. The only problem was that the strings didn’t carry as well to the back of the auditorium. You could hear them, but the presence was not strong.

All in all I think the piece is a success. A strange bird for sure, a 15 minutes musical playlet, but hey, an evening of them could prove interesting. Thornton Wilder’s somewhat irreverent and funny story worked. The play has a “dot dot dot” ending to it that I reflected in the music. There is no big orgasmic finale.

A piece like this could “invade” the chamber music world and bring a whole new element to their programming options.


The night before, I drove to downtown LA to a church where Vox Femina was rehearsing the piece they commissioned from me, ALARCON MADRIGALS, Book 3. Iris Levine is brilliant, and demands the most from her 30-some member women’s chorus. They sang through my music–music filled with hard rhythms, strange meter changes, tonal but disjunct harmonies, and articulated the beautiful Francisco X Alarcon poetry in both English and Spanish. How did I get so lucky to have one of the best women’s chorus in the world enjoy singing my music?

We made several changes in the first couple of movements. Some of the women seemed amused that we could actually change the music–permanently. And we did, and made it sound better.
I was in sheer ecstacy hearing them sing through the pieces, still on book but unaccompanied, with passion and sounding just as I hoped it would. All the piece needs now is a reverberant room which it will have for the premiere.

The phases of giving birth to a piece of music are all satisfying to me. My biggest weakness is getting my music out into the world. After the premiere, my blinders go on and I become obsessed with the next piece, having forgotten the previous one. As I tell my students, “you can’t expect the world to come knocking at your door looking for your music if they don’t know that it exists.”

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