Recently I played the Sostenuto from my Sonata for Violin and Piano with my dear friend Semmy Stahlhammer, for whom I wrote the piece when we were at graduate school together. The concert at the University of Akron was a reunion for us, because we hadn't seen each other for many years, and Semmy complemented my piece with insightful readings of solo Bach and witty interpretations of some popular songs. As a gift, he gave me a book he had written about his father: it's an absolute page-turner, an amazing story and beautifully written, telling the tale of a Polish Jew who, through good intuition and great courage, managed to survive World War II. I realized how well the book fits to the music we played: the violin is a lonely voice singing with hope about a sad time, and the spycam-type camera angle reminds me of the title of this marvelous book: Codename Barber
Composing Part I: At the Pipe Organ
Take a look at the process of composing music on the magnificent Casavant Frères pipe organ in the Christ Episcopal Church in Warren, Ohio. Explore with me the many facets of what this instrument can do, and get to know simple tips and tricks of composing music for the organ. In conceptualizing two new pieces involving the organ (amongst other instruments), it's such a pleasure to invent the music with these three manuals right under my fingers and the beautiful sounds surrounding me in this spacious church.
What an experience to play Moving Pictures for piano and film earlier this year! I created the films last summer while holidaying in Scotland, then composed the music to fit. It seemed that the various contrasting scenes were best accompanied by a wealth of different added-note triads and polychords, while the sepia tone that I used to edit the films contributed to an atmosphere similar to the old silent movies. During the concert in Akron, I sat at the piano with my laptop, and projected the films onto the TV screens at the back of the recital hall. The audience seemed to love it! For this recording, I played the music first, then re-edited the film to fit the performance.
I found these extraordinary pictures of the Swiss alps: the imposing Matterhorn against a dark-blue background, a sweeping valley with steep sides overlooking a far-off town, sunlight playing on the bright folds of the mountainside, a solitary cross on a lonely peak, a scene bathed in blue and white, a hut perched precariously on the edge of a cliff: how inspiring are nature's great creations! I had something like this in mind when I wrote the first movement of my second sonata: the grandeur of the opening repeated octaves in Lydian mode, the icy counterpoint at 0:12, the precarious tension of the soft melody at 1:12, and the majestic chords at 2:49. My penchant for harsh dissonance building into broad gestures, ebbing and flowing with brooding tremolos, seemed to match the darkness of the blue sky and the unforgiving white chill of the snow.
It's been a year of compositional adventures! In the piano piece Bells I revisited the powerful possibilities of triadic harmony, and in that sense wrote a more tonal creation than usual. Paying homage to Sibelius (born 150 years ago), I tried to imagine how the serenity of the fifth symphony could be reproduced on the solo piano.
A completely new direction for me is the work Moving Pictures for piano and film. I made the films myself from inspirational scenes in the Scottish countryside, and then composed music to fit.
But perhaps the most exciting project was the finale to the Bari Sax Sonata. Here I found myself engaged in a new compositional process. Whereas normally my compositions grow out of piano improvisations, I allowed this piece to float around in my head for several weeks, relying only on a tiny sketchbook to record ideas. By the time I brought it to the instrument, it was mostly complete. New music written, new ground covered in 2015. May the coming years be full of growth too!