Saturday, October 15, 2011

A Celebration of Rejection; or the beautiful Miss Candy Candykins

I'm off to Paris to meet Lynne, check that her paintings match the city, and spread the ashes of our dear beloved friend Evelyn. A bit in the Seine, a bit at Les Deux Magots (sprinkled over the crème de menthe), a little buried outside her favorite pizza place, a little tucked in next to Napoleon in Les Invalides. 

After that, heading to Amsterdam to catch up with Laura Bohn, who is performing in a Monteverdi / Hip-Hop mashup performance, then to Berlin to perform the Shitstorm of Asshattery letter with the lovely and talented Candy (which may not be her real name).  The highlight will almost certainly be my tearful love song to Simon Stockhausen, longing for the tête-à-tête we will now never have, which goes something like:
Dear Simon
How it thrills me
When you sneer
Just a little
Compel me to do 
What you want me to do
I want to be
A forward thinker
Like you
My Simon 
My Simon 
My Simon  
So why I am traveling all the way to Berlin? I am making a big deal of a rejection, something we have to deal with daily, but, Oh what a rejection!  A rejection of epic proportions! 

On that topic, one of my peeviest peeves is as follows. One spends a lot of time working on a proposal asking some foundation for its cash, which, as far as I am concerned they owe you for chrissakes, or similarly on the preparations for a competition or reading, which again takes quite a bit of time and energy and a Benjamin or two for all the copying and postage and whatnot and then in the end, more often than not, you receive a form letter - well, just an email nowadays, akin to being dumped by SMS - which tells you very little, e.g.:

Dear Erling,
I am writing on behalf of Music Director Joana Carneiro to let you know that we have completed the selection for next year’s composers as part of Berkeley Symphony’s Under Construction new music reading series and, unfortunately, we are unable to offer you a position this year.  We very much appreciate the strong quality of this year’s applicants and regret that there are but three positions available in the program.  Thanks again for your interest in our program and we hope you’ll consider reapplying in a future season.
Yours sincerely,
--- so and so ---
Director of Operations
Berkeley Symphony

So should one really reapply?  Or do they think your music sucks so bad that next time it will go into the shredder in its entirety once your return address's postal code is noticed?  Would it be so hard to simply send you a transcript of their discussion so one knows something at least of whether it is worth your time? One applauds their love for all your fellow applicants and their work, at least their love for the average applicant's work, but it's unclear what they thought of one's own work, which one might think is the more important question at hand. 

Work in progress

Working on the new opera, whose title has morphed into Certitude and Joy with various longish subtitles, and which is not to be confused with the orchestral piece of the same name, but which shares some of the same themes, especially the opening.  In playing it for the wife and the director, the favorite section seems to be that whose accompaniment is an arithmetical average between two pieces: Regard du Père (Messiaen) and the introduction to the opera Irma (Gavin Bryars).  It's a sentimental tune, sung by God to us the audience, describing his relationship to his prophets here on Earth.

Some of the words - especially the section about how one wishes to have it all explained at the end - is from my mother. She wants this, she hopes she will get it, but she is absolutely sure that she will meet my father after her death. On his deathbed, my father told me that his greatest wish was that his children had a personal relationship with Christ, a desire he didn't achieve. My mother wishes the same, but has accepted the loss.

Working on setting of the words, I'm reminded of a question put to me by Charles Shere once on stage, during a meet-the-composer moment after a performance of the opening of Sub Pontio Pilato in a two-piano reduction, viz Did you write the words before or after the music?  I fumbled the answer, feeling there was something wrong with the question, that the right answer was something like Oh, they both came to me at the same instant or Oh, they both were developed together, walking hand in hand down the aisle to the perfect consummation of text and sound. I've realized since then that, as with everything else, there are no rules, every process is OK. I often work in all possible ways: music first, words second, vice versa, both together, each running ahead and waiting for the other to catch up, revisions and sketches and quick outlines and everything else.

Please remember this: there are no rules. There is good and bad, but there are no rules as to how to get there.

Tonight's concert

In the first work, a plague-infested chipmunk, a cute little thing, as tiny as can be, with foam at the mouth, was hung in chains from the lighting grid, swinging slowly from side to side which, according to the program notes, was a reference to Reich's Pendulum Music. A small patch of hair on its chest had been shaved away, normally quite difficult to see, except that a small video camera was attached to the chain and the image from the camera was being wirelessly beamed to a large screen overhead. This allowed the audience and the humane society volunteers to monitor the condition of the expiring animal, both emotionally and physically. On the shaved portion of the skin, a small piezo microphone attached, and a long thin wire hung down, looping through some sort of magnetic amplification system, with the resultant enhanced bioacoustic signals - heartbeat, respiration et al - driving a solenoid which, in Rube Goldberg fashion, and, at the end of its extension, struck a percussionist quite hard just below the rib cage. At each bruising blow, the percussionist moved to the next event in the score, which was merely a list, viz:
Hard mallet ff on bass drum, 4 cm from the edge, damped with a cupped hand.
Medium triangle p rolled with beaters. etc
Later, after the show, I went into the lobby to ask John Luther Adams to autograph my copy of the orchestral score to Dark Waves. Skeptical at first, but then happy to find that I had actually purchased the score, rather than stealing from some music library, he sat down and began to work. Asking me whether there was an "H" in my name, I said yes, as there is: Erling Henry Wold, but unfortunately I misunderstood, and the very lovely dedication is now capped off by the name Ehrling Wold, bookending my J.S.G. Boggs Considerate States of America Banknote, whose signed REGISTER reads Earling H. Wold.
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