For composer and violinist Cornelius Dufallo, making music, whether creating his own or performing the work of others, is quite literally a way of life; he considers it a path of personal discovery. “Composing and performing help me discover who I am not only as an artist, but as a human being,” says Dufallo, who enjoys a richly varied musical career that encompasses music from the realm of avant-garde improvisation to the most exacting fully-notated scores.
During his studies at Julliard, Dufallo became involved in contemporary music because many of his friends were composers, and he wanted to play their work. “I wasn’t thinking of it as a career move or anything—it was like a social thing,” says Dufallo. “I was doing it because they were my friends and it was interesting. And I got to play a lot of really cool pieces that way.” From there he played with a number of ensembles, became one of the first members of the Flux Quartet, as well as a founding member of the new music ensemble Ne(x)tworks, and he most recently spent seven years as a violinist with the quartet Ethel. The process of collaborating with different composers and learning about their creative processes inspired him to compose more of his own works, many of which utilize amplified violin with electronics.
Playing amplified gave me so many more options in terms of tone color, and I learned a lot about timbre that way. Then it was really fun to go back to playing acoustic, with those timbres in mind, because then that really expands your approach to the instrument on a purely acoustic level as well.
Such a range of performing experience has resulted in a personal repertoire of violin music that reads like a thoughtfully curated selection of significant works from the early 21st century. On May 31, Dufallo will present the fourth installment of his Journaling recital series, which he created to track the route he has traveled, via his collaborations with composers, in the performance of contemporary violin music. The concert will feature world premieres of pieces composed by Kinan Azmeh, Tim Hodgkinson, and Paul Brantley, as well as works by Jacob TV, Svjetlana Bukvich, Patrick Derivaz, and Dufallo himself. A new CD with six works from the Journaling series will be released in June.
In the same way that his recitals take an autobiographical approach to current events in contemporary music by chronicling his personal exploits within the field, Dufallo’s own compositions are the result of intense introspection and self-awareness. Composing serves as a means by which he processes life experiences, in addition to providing creative and intellectual fulfillment. He has explored topics such as his own dreams, as in the work Carillon for amplified violin and electronics, and he recently premiered a work for violin and ensemble with the Washington, D.C.-based Great Noise Ensemble titled Paranoid Symmetries that addresses the painful experience of a close relation’s mental breakdown.
In his compositional process, Dufallo attempts to always maintain a balance between structure and spontaneity, staying open to the possibility of unexpected musical connections that might arise throughout the course of his daily musical activities. A short phrase improvised at a sound check for a concert might find its way into his latest composition, or variations on a completed work could be taken in a completely different direction for a new piece. Ultimately for him, composing is one piece of a larger undertaking; that of “finding one’s way as an individual, which is a lifelong endeavor.”