…of my Trio for Violin, Horn, and Piano just around the corner (Tuesday at 3:00pm at San Francisco State University), I decided to take a final listen to the bleep-blorp-bleep playback of the Finale playback orchestra dealy. I’m not sure what put me in the mood. Aside from the mistakes in range in places (I apparently thought the piano had another octave at the top of its range…I think it was because I was too busy writing conceptually to think of what the actual notes should be at that point), and a misunderstanding of writing for stopped horn (which, considering I was once a horn player, is quite embarassing), I don’t think the piece is too bad. I can always fix those mistakes up and the piece will float. I’m thankful that Lydia Van Dreel, Sylvia Davanzo, and Sandy Holder have been so understanding, and willing to make fixes. It’s been tough not being there to retranscribe the score alongside them.
I worry that people forget that part of the process of premiering new works is working out these sort of kinks. I’ve got the feeling that most musicians think that all (good) music comes from some kind of virgin birth, absolutely perfect from its inception. Experience has taught me that’s hardly ever the case. I, for one, prefer this sort of give and take. If there is a better way to play something for a performer, I want to hear it; the idea that I, GREAT COMPOSER dictate what will be done is a little bit not my style (don’t get me wrong, I have all the delusions of grandeur to be a GREAT COMPOSER).
I can’t help but feel anxious when I listen back to this piece, for a couple of reasons. First, because the piece brings me back to a stressful time in my life. Second, because of the language I used to write it. The piece is very, very (VERY) traditional in a lot (A LOT) of places. Now, us composers have been led to believe that we can write whatever we’d like, but the truth of the matter is that composers who ape music of the past are generally not taken as seriously as other composers. This isn’t a tonal/atonal thing; that battle is safely over. This is more of an “old” vs. “new” thing. Music can sound overtly consonant, so long as it’s presented as being “new” in some way: that’s sort of how minimalism came to be recognized as an intellectual movement, as opposed to being relegated to a fetish of the sentimental.
In the Trio, I strove to create “new” music out of conspicuously “old” music. I wasn’t interested in using the passing triad or inflection (a la Ligeti, or the minimalists, etc.), but larger chunks of tonal music patched together in unexpected ways. I go back and forth as to whether I was able to create this, or if I simply indulged some overtly comfy, sentimental feelings.
Ultimately, I feel that if you’re going to use “old” music, it’s best to put it in as radically “new” a context as possible. You know who does this really well? Del Tredici, particularly in Vintage Alice. I listened to his music non-stop from 2007 to 2009, and it’s been a tremendous influence on me. For some reading material, check out this New York Times review of Vintage Alice. I disagree with the reviewer’s, um, review, entirely, but it at least gives some context to what Del Tredici faced during his career (not that it’s over…you know what I mean).
One thing that Del Tredici had going for him in Vintage Alice was that the pieces he was quoting were just that: quotes. Quotation of anachronistic music is an entirely different intellectual device than outright composition in an anachronistic style. People can recognize a quotation as a “foreign” element. It doesn’t belong to the piece in the same way as if it came from the composer’s pen. It took me a long time to recognize the difference.
I’m interested to see how the audience interprets my piece. I’ve got my fingers crossed.