Thursday, March 27, 2008

Canvas presents: 4tet...

Friends Jenn and Donna before the show.

Friends Novella, her husband Jan Willem and Andre.

Before the show (note the kleenexes under the piano. I was still sick as a dog that night.)

Me waxing philosophical about some musical thing or another during the performance.

After the performance, debriefing with Andre.

L to R: Andre, Benjamin Konrad (Hungary), Inger van Vliet (Holland), Maria Ballesteros (Spain), Bernat Teruel (Spain), and me.

A few weeks ago, we hosted our fifth muziekavond (now called "Canvas")...a night of string quartet music.

This account is coming more from memory than from that burst of afterglow from which I usually write, as the evening was the crest in a wave of happenings - including a trip to Seattle to work with Jenn Alexander on a recording project, and enjoying the company of Brenda and Norm in Amsterdam (they came to see the performance).

I had to wait until I was happily washed onto shore before I could stand up and speak.

There are a few musical milestones I've passed in my life that stand out in my memories: Making a huge leap of confidence on that Sunday morning in 1985 when I realized I had improvisation skills. In high school, performing for the first time as a singer/pianist and realizing that experiencing this combination was to be one of the great loves of my life. Launching a dozen new arrangements for a gospel choir...comprised mostly of Korean singers, no less...and liking what I heard.

And now, a new one.

I had the great joy of sitting back in my chair and listening to the realization of my new single-movement piece for string quartet, The Journey Forward.

It felt like giving birth. To have nurtured this child for many months - pouring over every gesture, note and articulation - to hand it over to capable hands to present it to the audience.

It was a profoundly happy moment for me.

The conception of this experience began with the friendship made with Dutch composer Andre Douw. He mentioned to me in September of last year that he was planning to premiere in March of '08 a string quartet he wrote, and would I be interested in writing something for quartet as well?

I decided to expand an 8-bar motive I had played around with when living in Los Angeles and see what I came up with. After countless hours of writing, re-writing, sculpting, hemming and hawing, the end result was this piece.

When hearing it, it's hard not to notice the influence of the French composers from a century ago. Especially Ravel, when it comes to string quartet writing. Both as a listener and performer, the harmonic colors from this chapter in musical history make my favorite kind of palette: One that is both classical and modern. Dramatic and non-emotional. Sitting comfortably within the realm of tonal expectations but at the same time, happy to challenge the ears here and there.

In this piece, these notions of push and pull were my guides. And the steady stream of information that pushes it forward (thanks in great part to Inger - the first violinist in the quartet- who helped put it into words) is what gave me the name.

Andre's piece, Against That Time, he wrote in dedication to his parents who have died in recent years. He wrote the 3-movement piece as a style study from the years surrounding his parent's births, emulating the serialism of Arnold Schoenberg and his students Alban Berg and Anton Webern from the '30s. The structure and "language" of the piece is influenced by Shakespeare's sonnet No. 49, which begins with the same words of the title.

The evening was full of variety...from a short film score-esque piece that I wrote to begin the night, to a few arrangements I wrote for quartet, piano and voice (including a Grieg piece I prepared in honor of a special Norwegian guest who flew in for the performance). Then, Andre's piece, which is challenging both for the quartet to play and the audience to hear, with a non-tonal approach and relatively extreme techniques on the instruments. And ending with my little epic.

As ever, the audience displayed champion amounts of flexibility (I have developed the luxury of expecting it from them), and it was another beautiful night of music, eating, drinking, and friendship on the Herengracht.

Andre's encouragement and my commitment to work on a "serious" piece opened up a new world of musical experience for me. And I couldn't be more grateful.

Here's a little slice. There are a few unwanted squeaks and pitch discrepancies here and there. But given the time they had to pull it together, the quartet did a great job capturing the essence.

I'll post more on my upcoming website when I launch it this summer.

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