I recently re-read the last of Robert Craft and Igor Stravinsky’s famous collaborative books, Retrospectives and Conclusion. It was published in 1969. That might have the the year I first read it. There are not many people who are more inspiring to me than Igor Stravinsky. His catalog of works is huge, and I think I like everything he wrote. His work from a hundred years ago still seems fresh and innovative. He was invariably himself, and seemed to be immune to trends and vagaries of the music business. As the poet Ezra Pound said of art more generally, Stravinsky’s music is “news that stays news.” And I admire how incisively he spoke of others’ work. Here he is in a 1966 interview, talking about Charles Ives: “[He] was exploring the 1960s during the heyday of Strauss and Debussy. Polytonality; atonality; tone clusters; perspectivistic effects; chance; statistical composition; permutation; add-a-part, practical-joke, and improvisatory music: these were Ives’ discoveries a half-century ago as he quietly set about devouring the contemporary cake before the rest of us even found a seat at the same table.” Who speaks like this? Who can so eloquently analyze another composer on the fly? Like so much of his music, Stravinsky’s take on Ives is important, profound and funny all at the same time. Love this guy.
Over the summer my jazz band, Chaise Lounge, played in a classically beautiful barn in Vermont. I also heard a wonderful chamber music performance at a barn in Damariscotta, Maine. And now that I’m back in the DMV (a local nickname for the District of Columbia and its Maryland and Virginia suburbs) I’m looking forward to playing at the granddaddy of all barns, The Barns at Wolf Trap in Vienna, Virginia. It must be the lack or parallel walls, or maybe the warm, non-reflective acoustic properties of the wood that makes playing at a properly retrofitted barn feel like playing inside a big guitar. I think it is wonderful that so many of these 18th- and 19th-century structures have been repurposed as music venues. Our Wolf Trap show is on Friday, October 14th. If you are in the neighborhood, please come by.
I don’t have to tell you that the state of arts funding in much of the US is dismal. That’s why I feel particularly fortunate to live in Montgomery County, Maryland, a jurisdiction that supports both mainstream and esoteric artistic endeavors. I was recently awarded a county grant to write and produce a new chamber work for strings, harp and percussion. The piece I have in mind will incorporate Latin rhythms, in honor of the county’s booming population of immigrants from Central and South America.
After eight months of work, I have just finished writing a big orchestral piece called Postcards from the West. Total running time, about 43 minutes. At first, the piece’s subject was pretty high-concept. I started out to write a four-movement work about the four states of matter: solid, liquid, gas, and (don’t forget) plasma. But it was tough going. Maybe it comes from all the films I’ve scored, but I tend to work better when I have images in my head as I write. I started poking around the internet for pictures to inspire me and settled on four vintage postcards, each representing to me one of the four states of matter. Unexpectedly, all four images came from the American West, and my way forward became clear. Now the piece is finished, and I am hoping to find an orchestra to premiere this beast. I welcome all thoughts on this matter. Please contact me via postcard. If you’d like to hear or read the piece, you can find PDFs of the score and hear MP3s of a synth realization here.