Love At First Listen

Nothing restores my faith in contemporary music like a great first rehearsal.

I had the chance to sit down today with a delegation from the University of Minnesota’s Contemporary Music Workshop and hear their first run-through of a recent piece of mine for chamber ensemble. Although I’d been privy to another group’s rehearsal of this piece several months ago, I was a bit anxious to see how these new players would approach it: Some of them aren’t entirely used to new music, and my piece poses a few challenges that I suspected might be novel to them. However, they dealt with every nested tuplet and quarter-tone like seasoned pros, working with a student conductor—the formidable and tirelessly dedicated Shanti Nolan, definitely an emerging talent to keep your eye on—to brainstorm and pursue strategies for the piece’s exacting ensemble playing on the fly. The piece still needs some work, but I feel great about the shape it’s already in.

So what’s next? We’ve got a few more rehearsals before the gig, and I want to make sure we make the best use of our limited time. I had a short tĂȘte-a-tĂȘte with Shanti to compare notes from today’s go-round; I have no doubt that we’ll make major progress. It’s fantastic feeling, really: My work is pretty much done, and I get to sit back and enjoy what these awesome musicians are doing with my text. The LCO players I worked with on the piece back in April (and wrote about ) were impeccable musicians, no question—any composer would be grateful to encounter performers who can negotiate hot-off-the-presses rep with such effortless elegance. The CMW’s players, however, bring a whole new palette to the piece. The winds are more assertive, the strings grimier, the overall texture yet more carnivalesque—and since we have so many more rehearsal hours this time around, we can really get inside the piece’s subtleties and tie it all together with a tightness that was simply impossible back in the spring. “Stoked,” I believe, is the word I’m looking for.

I know
I’ve raved about the Contemporary Music Workshop before, and I’m certain I’ll be moved to do it again, but I’m dead serious: If you yearn for high-quality, contemporary music in the Twin Cities, the CMW is one group you simply can’t miss. Every time I hear them—even if they’ve never played the piece before!—they wow me.

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