After the nonstop traveling of last season — which at one point had me flying straight from a Mercury Soul DJ gig (in a semi-wrecked state) to a morning rehearsal of Liquid Interface — this summer has been a welcome stretch of composing in California. For the past few months, I’ve been composing a cello concerto for the exceptional Joshua Roman, a solo piano piece, and a large ensemble piece for the Chicago Symphony’s MusicNOW series. That’s a lot to write, but my commute has been the short distance from my bedroom to the studio (and sometimes to the backyard, if I need to listen to some music while attacking a row of tomato plants). That beats United Airlines any day.
This seasonal rhythm has become important for me. Summertime is when I get a big start on composing the most demanding pieces on the docket, when I listen to a slew of music in consideration for various curating projects, and when I simply recharge on the domestic level. So even while keeping a full schedule of composing, I’ve been able to obsess about herb-garden soil amendments and get a start on surfing. All well and good, because things are now kicking into high gear for the 2013-14 season. Here’s a flyover:
SFS Beethoven & Bates Festival. Without question, this is the coolest-sounding festival I’ll ever be associated with (though Berlioz would have me peaking like egg whites). My ongoing partnership with the San Francisco Symphony continues this season and next, when my three biggest works — Alternative Energy, Liquid Interface, and The B-Sides — will be performed alongside works of what’s-his-name. Next to the Beethoven, my ‘energy symphony,’ ‘water symphony,’ and surreal symphonic suite will create both harmony and friction. On one level, the large-scale and dramatic nature of my music makes it a logical programming choice with Beethoven, who invented the narrative form with the 9th Symphony. When a chorus appeared in the finale, suddenly the symphonic form included text — and this merging of content and abstract medium opened the symphony to later explorations by Wagner, Liszt, and Berlioz. My music often brings unusual narrative forms to life, but with an electro-acoustic palette and a completely different stylistic sensibility than the 19th Century symphonists. It’s a provocative programming choice from the most gifted and offbeat mindfreak the world knows, Michael Tilson Thomas.
Chicago Symphony & MusicNOW. This season marks the third of my 5-year residency with the country’s Ferrari of orchestras, the Chicago Symphony. A hot-off-the-press work for cello ensemble comes to the CSO’s MusicNOW series, which has become a phenomenon that’s pulled in huge audiences from well beyond classical music. Listening to today’s wealth of wonderful new music has been one of the great pleasures of curating this series with Anna Clyne. But we’ve also had an incredible time learning about elaborate stagecraft and concert presentation. It’s an immersive experience with dynamic digital program notes, pre- and post-concert DJing, and the best musicians around.
Violin Concerto. Anne Akiko Meyers continues her amazing run with my Violin Concerto, with an upcoming recording session with the London Symphony and Maestro Leonard Slatkin. (You can also catch performances this season with the Chicago, Detroit, and Richmond Symphonies.) In addition, the SFS will be recording all three of my pieces from the Beethoven & Bates festival for release next season. And finally, the Brooklyn Youth Chorus will release Mass Transmission, about early long-range radio transmissions between a mother and daughter, next spring. In total, these CDs will slake a deep thirst on my end — though after so long without any symphonic CDs, having three big ones might make me a little drunk.
Mercury Soul. It began as a self-produced club show in San Francisco, but in five years Mercury Soul has become the country’s definitive “alt-classical” event. Fusing performances of classical music into an evening of DJing and surreal visuals, the show returns to the Chicago and San Francisco Symphonies after packed shows with the CSO and Pittsburgh Symphony last spring. Mercury Soul is new music to new ears in new ways. Click here for more info.
Oldies, which do the real work. No matter how busy things get for me, the heavy lifting is always done by my catalogue: Mothership is opening many a concert these days; Rusty Air in Carolina is still bringing the buzzing ambience of the South to orchestras; The B-Sides is appearing in whole or part in various places; and acoustic works such as Sea-Blue Circuitry remind everyone that “you don’t need EDM to have a good time.” (And in the case of the electro-acoustic works, more often than not the orchestra and a percussionist handle it on their own with ease).
If you’re new to the site, please sign up for my once-in-a-blue-moon newsletter below. Right now I’m in that zen-gardening state, but when you next hear from me, my hair will be afire as the season revs up. Until!