Skip to content

Story re-told

Since the nifty performance database is back up and swinging (apologies for the baseball metaphor—as long as My Mets are cruising they’re going to continue), I’ve added one to the list I’m particularly pleased about. Thanks to Ken Thompson at Bowling Green State University, this would be the BGSU New Music Ensemble’s upcoming performance of Ohanashi this January. This will be only the second performance of the piece, ever. It’s been ten years. This isn’t the sort of thing one generally advertises—that a particular piece has no performance life, but I’m hoping the mojo will rub off and we’ll start a trend. It did seem like this sucker was in the same boat as those countless new operas and orchestra works with splashy premieres (Ohanashi premiered as a New Juilliard Ensemble commission at Alice Tully Hall) and no subsequent performances. Despite several programs initiated to combat the one-performance epidemic, this piece (Cheers, Ken!) finally beat the system.

Since I was discussing not long ago how I was going through the Newman catalog, dusting off works and wondering what to do with them, it’s apt that this piece comes up. Ohanashi was one of those pieces I stressed over — unrepresentative of current style (and so always hesitantly promoted), and yet, compositionally, it’s a piece I’m quite proud of. Indeed, I would say that this is the one piece completely representative of my studies with John Corigliano … which was a year of essentially re-learning how to compose. John teaches an “architectural” approach, where structure, form, and pacing trump any particular harmonic language style, and while working with him I of course wrote several pieces. But it wasn’t until right after I left Juilliard and won the NJE commission when I put his now fully-soaked-in teachings to use. And so, the piece is subsequently and unsurprisingly, Corigliano-esque. More than anything else I’ve done, I believe. That being said, the influence doesn’t necessarily show up in the musical language, which is so very different from what I’ve settled into now. In fact it was even quite far from what I was heading toward at the time (OK Feel Good was written one year BEFORE Ohanashi). Yet it was a language and stylistic approach I always wanted to have under my belt, and so I went for it. I look back with pride on this decision … that when that commission came, I didn’t write the piece I was comfortable writing, I wrote the piece I always wanted to write, and didn’t know if I could. That kind of compositional sweat is worth ten years between performances, I think. I honestly don’t know if I could do that now. It might be the kind of decision only a 24-year old makes.

One of the fascinating kicks to this upcoming BGSU performance comes from the performance materials themselves. In addition to the parts (which will have to be fished from a box in a storage space on W. 29th Street), the piece has a tape part. In 1997, that meant “cassette” tape part. Yup, that’s “cassette” as in “Do you hear that annoying hissing sound?” Originating from the now dead Opcode Studio Vision (G-d I miss that program), the tape cues were crude digital audio sequences recorded onto cassettes and run at the premiere from the Tully booth—by the awesome MP, in fact (CDs were possible at the time, but problematic—you never actually knew when they were going to start). Now of course, there is ubiquitous digital audio, and laptops, and if the the same piece were written today it would simply include a couple of tracks written in your favorite digital audio sequencer, and some schlub pressing a spacebar every so often during the performance. So now the trick is to search and rescue the original sequences (where are they? on a Zip disk somewhere I think…), see if we can’t transfer them into current (and extant) software, and forever transform those sucky cassette cues into a MacBookPro running DP and sounding forth crystal-clear digital audio.

Wow. Did that sound like I knew how to go about doing that?

Post to Twitter Post to Digg Post to Facebook Post to StumbleUpon

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *