April Showers

That hermit crab that pops out its hole and peers at the world? That’s me this month.

After a few quiet months focused on composing, I now scurry out from my studio-cocoon and interact with the rest of the world.   It’s an exciting month featuring the premiere of a neo-baroque work for the San Francisco Symphony; the London debut of a large new ballet based on my Anthology of Fantastic Zoology; a multi-media National Symphony concert under dynamo maestro Hugh Wolff; and an appearance on the inaugural Festival of American Music with the storied Lousiville Orchestra. This crab will be scurrying indeed.

Coming on the heels of a beautifully-produced CD from the San Francisco Symphony, the April 27-29 premiere of Auditorium is especially meaningful. This work is quite different from anything I’ve done before. The piece takes the premise that an orchestra, like a person, can be haunted. Ghostly remixed recordings of period instruments trail the live orchestra, with riffs being passed across the void like on a giant Ouija board.  What begins as a haunting evolves into a kind of ‘techno bourée,’ with the two musical entities reaching an ethereal resolution.

After Michael Tilson Thomas directed me to some obscure 18th Century composers (classic MTT maneuver), I conceived of a work that would approach not only the style and musical mannerisms of that period, but the actual instruments themselves. So I composed neo-baroque music for the wonderfully strange instruments of that era, then remixed that material in ways that could never be played live. Chords swoosh on, melodies flicker like poltergeists.

For a dude whose medium is symphonic, working with a baroque orchestra is something like a spoken word artist hanging with a bunch of Enlightenment poets. I loved writing for traverso (more recorder than flute), baroque bassoon (more tree than bassoon), and theorbo (harp meets Guitar Hero).  The baroque oboe has beautifully earthy and vulnerable textures, while the natural horn and trumpet make every note feel like a discovery. In the same way that working with electronic sounds forever changed my outlook, so has composing for period instruments. (I just might start wearing a powdered wig.)

A few weeks before that, I’ll catch rehearsals of Aszure Barton’s new ballet based on Anthology of Fantastic Zoology, a sprawling work that depicts the dark fantasy of Jorge-Luis Borges.  Anthology always had ballet in its DNA, heavily informed by the colorful Russian ballet scores of Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, and Mussorgsky. I wrote it for the Chicago Symphony and Maestro Riccardo Muti, kind of a swan song after five years in residence there, and the piece became an exuberant ‘concerto for orchestra’ in which various instruments depict all manner of magical creatures.

Aszure Barton, one of the world’s leading choreographers, has a rare and deep understanding of symphonic music. She has choreographed several large pieces of mine, and I thought about her work a lot as I composed this piece. She’s a leading light and I can’t wait to see her new creation.

Right after the English National Ballet performance, I head to the Kennedy Center to hear the stunning Anne Akiko Meyers perform my Violin Concerto with the National Symphony under Hugh Wolff (April 14-16). Anne has a huge following based on her superb musical skills and her creative recording projects, and this piece owes a huge debt to both. She not only performed it with orchestras all over the world, she brought it to a wide audience with an exceptional CD.

Check out the April 15 concert. The National Symphony has created a new symphonic format called Declassified which enriches a concert with imaginative production: lighting, videos, projections, and social events. This particular show features two other works of mine beyond the concerto: The B-Sides and The Rise of Exotic Computing. It’s the first time an entire program has focused on my music, and it’s very meaningful that it’s happening in my artistic home base. The Kennedy Center has proved to be an extraordinary place to work as the resident composer, with a constellation of artforms spinning under one roof. If you can make it to DC for this concert, it will have as many bells and whistles as the premiere of Mothership by the YouTube Symphony.

And last but not least, I am so excited to see what Maestro Teddy Abrams is doing with the Louisville Orchestra. A protégé of MTT, Teddy matches his brilliant programming with stellar musicianship and engaging presentation. And Louisville is a storied ensemble, with a stellar recording catalogue that did much to raise awareness of American composers. Regional orchestras provide much of the fresh thinking in the field, but they are the most underreported story in classical music. I look forward to sharing my experiences performing Mothership on the inaugural Festival of American Music … and, being in Kentucky, drinking lots of bourbon. I’ll need it this month!