Sunday, February 17, 2013

The night before last

I went to see Opera Parallèle's production of Ainadamar the night before last and, as I was waiting for my lovely wife to freshen up, I ran into Joshua Kosman, who asked me what I was up to and as is often the case when asked that particular question, I fumbled unsuccessfully for an answer, mentioning something about having just come back from the production of Uksus in Austria.  He chided me for not keeping up with the blog, and thus not tipping my hand as to what was coming up in my compositional life, but after thinking about it for a day I realized that the problem is that in general, I really don't know what is going on until it happens. Projects and ideas of projects blink evanescently into being and then blink back out again, like those bigger bosons that appear in the collisions of synchrotron output and then disappear 3×10-25 seconds later, but sometimes one or two projects will, to mix metaphors, snowball into something real. Some even make it to the master list of pieces-to-do, but it can be embarrassing to reveal those to the world or even to friends or lovers as they will invariably say, and I quote: "yes, you told me that list six months ago, and maybe you could just finish one so that I don't have to hear about them over and over." So, I hesitate.

But now, just for the sake of experiment, let me reveal to the world some of what I am working on. I'd like to produce Uksus here in San Francisco. That's a matter of money mostly, and maybe the fact that it is in German, and I like my pieces to be (1) in the language of the people or (2) in a big stew of ancient languages that no one understands. I've also been working on another long-term opera project with Jim Bisso but as it took us 10 years to do the last one, I assume this one will take 20, and that in the meantime I will write another opera or two of my own. I'm working on some songs with Sirje Viise, which may include some of her poems and maybe some of mine, and I've had a plan for ages to do some songs with Jolie Holland, and the other day Laura Bohn asked me to write something that she could perform in the Netherlands, and maybe there's a way to kill all these birds with a lot of stones, or maybe just a lot of songs. These I have actually been working on, and the last few days have been spent communing with the piano under the influence of hangovers and other other-than-normal mental states hoping to stumble across a lost chord or two. I have many processes for working on tunes, this being the most Stravinsky-esque, although I do know in my heart that there are wrong ways and right ways to write music, and the right way is to channel God through the pen on paper, so that I will try as well.

There is something aphoristic about a brief song vs. an large operatic piece. I'm sure that the popularity of the popular song has something to do with this. It is that the song leaves much out that the opera is obliged to fill in, and it is this evocation of the internal history and context of the listener that adds to a song's beauty. The more heartbreak, the more pain and joy and life one has lived, the more injustice one has seen in the world, the better the song can be.

I have a number of instrumentalist friends who have asked me for works and a few that haven't, and in that last category is the organist Michelle Jeanine Horsley, for whom I wrote a piece as I was leaving Vienna at the end of last year, and which I present here:


While you listen, I'll go back to the piano, just as soon as I've finished reading the myriad Wikipedia entries concerning the Filioque controversy.  Even though I have set and before this day spoken only the Roman version, I'm becoming partial to the Orthodox, no doubt due to my preference for the iconoclastic: τὸ ἐκ τοῦ Πατρὸς ἐκπορευόμενον. 

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