Day 6: It All Comes Down To This

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Group shot from the 2007 Minnesota Orchestra’s Composer Institute

Hot damn, there’s some good music going on here. A new formula follows for today’s entry to help explain: I’m providing a sentence or two about each of the other composers along with my impressions of their orchestra pieces after the rehearsal today.

In concert order:

Trevor Gureckis‘s persona somehow straddles the incredibly thick line between introverted composer (suggested by his soft-spoken voice) and rock star (his fauxhawk and Austin sensibilities won’t deny it). The music of his Very Large Array is weighted towards the latter, featuring pounding percussion, brassy declarations, and a bed of minimalist patterns that almost float by unnoticed.

Wes Matthews cares about melody, improvisation, and his bicycle. Terraces is reminiscent of Webern in its harmony but not in its lush orchestration. The overlapping melodies and gestures amount to what Ralph Jackson of BMI called “liquid.” I personally (and irrationally) hate it when, after a piece ends quietly and elegantly, an audience member near me lets a throaty “mmnh” escape from a closed mouth. I fear that much of the audience will be performing this act after the solo violin whispers the last notes of Wes’s piece.

Dan Bradshaw brought a can of macadamia nuts for each of us in his luggage from Hawaii. I’d motion to vote him Mr. Congeniality if that didn’t have connotations of inferiority. His Chaconne is a gorgeous work that, like the famous chaconnes of the past, is defined by a set of variations over a harmonic progression. In a time when most young composers find it easier to cut themselves off from the past rather than confront the influence of the Western canon, it’s refreshing that Dan’s piece openly expresses admiration for the great works, yet also manages to be highly personal.

Elliott Miles McKinley, the hometown hero here in Minneapolis, is named after Elliott Carter and Miles Davis. The central idea of his Pocket Symphony is a novel and attractive one: it has the form of a full symphony condensed into 12 minutes. While I won’t venture to say that the entertaining work is defined by jazzed-up metric modulation, McKinley’s influences are no doubt diverse. Expressionist licks comingle with touches of Angelo Badalamenti.

Xi Wang is a lovely person. Above Light blew me away. Watch out.

Stephen Wilcox once transferred his studies from tuba performance to composition, and more recently he transferred his home from Philadelphia to Santa Barbara. Cho-Han, his Penn doctoral dissertation, is a complex and passionate work based on the even-odd duality of a Japanese dice game. Rumor has it that each year Aaron Kernis selects one piece that will be a significant challenge for the experienced orchestra—if so, Stephen’s piece undoubtedly carries the torch this year.

All of the music fits together well, and so do the personalities. I’m delighted to be sharing a program with all of these great artists and people. Some good news from the box office wire: as of Monday ticket sales had already exceeded last year’s highly successful turnout. Remember that if you’re not in the area, you can tune in to the concert from afar on the MPR site at 8 p.m. CDT.

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