Sunday, June 27, 2010

When can a composer put a stay at a spa on their résumé?

Today's post is written by Carolyn O'Brien, one of our participant composers:

After attending the Music10 Festival in Blonay, Switzerland and subsequently displaying that fact on my résumé, it almost feels as if I'm claiming a stay at a spa as a professional accomplishment! The food, wine, view of the alps and Lake Geneva, not to mention the stimulating conversations with the company I keep is so lovely, it's impossible to see my stay as anything other than luxurious. Instead of seeing a masseuse for what ails me, I get my ego stroked by gifted performers at every rehearsal. During each morning presentation with my fellow composers or master class with our esteemed professors, I get multiple solutions to questions I never thought would be answered in my own music.

For example, during my own presentation a few days ago, I announced to the group that I was thinking of removing ostinato from all my music because I felt it was both an easy way to push music forward, it was equally difficult to get out of the groove without cutting it off in a violent way. Today, I was proven wrong by my new colleague Federico Garcia in his piece for guitar, marimba and piano entitled "Bajo el hechizo." Federico's ostinato showed so much nuance with registral and timbral shifts the likes of which I'd never even considered until today.

This kind of discovery happens every day here in Blonay, where threads of conversations start at 9 am on one day, are discussed through lunch, dinner, hikes in the alps, day trips to Vevey, and resolve a few days later within the music of a new friend. The fact that music can both present and solve a problem is truly moving. Sometimes we simply go beyond the problems and simply enjoy a transcendent passage of music that is so achingly plaintive and poignant it must be heard once more, such as the day Joel Hoffman asked Jesse Jones if we could please hear the opening of his elegy for Piano Quintet (vln, vla, vc, bass, pf.) The especially moving moment when the bass lays this sublime layer of depth as the soaring melody cries its lament above made eyes both water and squint as we all probably secretly plotted to steal that instrumentation and orchestration. Either that, or perhaps we'll just have to pool our leftover Swiss francs and pay Jesse to ghostwrite for us. Seriously, I probably made my point, but just know it was gorgeous. You don't have to take my word for it though. Try listening here!

Another thread that keeps coming up for us is the elusive art of choosing a title for a piece and writing program notes. It turns out this tends to be a nightmare for most of us and we've discussed this more times than I can count since the first admission of this fearful preoccupation. I've looked at a blog entry by Jeremy Denk, a pianist based in NYC, and his witty take on how to deal with program notes is very interesting. However, it still doesn't address that "how to name your baby" issue of composing, and how and when to tell the audience about your secret little inspirations, stories, visual ideas, et al that helped you to conceive of the piece. So, as we try to discern between what's bad taste vs. good taste, we ease our quandaries by eating pasta, or buttery sauces over local fish, or vanilla panna cotta with our coffee, or share a bottle of local wine, or take a little sample of local cheese from that nice lady at la laiterie followed by a hunk of dark chocolate and take comfort in excellent company. Well . . . sometimes bad taste does enter into it. . . but I'll keep the details (and the web site links) out of that, shall I?

1 comment:

Amy Werner said...

Excellent post! Thank you for taking the time to share. Sounds like another fabulous year in Blonay. Wonderful!