A few months ago, a friend told me a curious fact: In 1936, George Gershwin had a standing tennis date in Los Angeles with Arnold Schoenberg. Can you imagine a more incongruous pair? The seemingly effortless crowd pleaser, Gershwin, up against the cerebral Teutonic composer who probably would have been horrified if, during a performance of one of his challenging atonal works, the crowd had accidentally been pleased. I couldn’t get these two out of my mind, so while I was on vacation recently, I wrote a play about them. It’s not even a musical, though there’s incidental music in the script. The play is called Twelveness, after Schoenberg’s 12-tone serial technique, natch. It hasn’t hit Broadway yet…or off-Broadway…or off-off-Broadway…but stay tuned.
I just finished scoring an unusual documentary by director David Hanrahan. The film, called This Exists, is about a Brazilian spiritual leader and teacher named Prem Baba. It was a novel project for me—a biography combined with something of a feature-length meditation. The music is incredibly spare: a combination of solo piano, solo cello, and Tibetan singing bowls. The film also features tracks from Ashana, a new-age singer from Arizona. This score was an exercise in restraint for me. At every dramatic moment, I had to dial everything back to the emotional level of Prem Baba’s quiet message and let the tranquility of the scene resonate.
I recently completed the score for a documentary about the dark and quixotic artist Miriam Beerman, who is 91 years old. The film, Miriam Beerman: Expressing the Chaos, is a passion project by the director Jonathan Gruber. It was an incredible challenge to match the intensity of this under-appreciated painter’s vivid canvases while finding a way to illuminate her calm personality. To get this feeling of serenity within chaos, I chose a palette of essentially four instruments; piano, cello, vibes, and percussion—including the high keening sound of bowed crotales.
On October 18, the Capital City Symphony under the baton of Maestra Victoria Gau will premiere my three-movement work Mid-Century Mambo. It’s an orchestral piece inspired by 1950s dance rhythms, including a mambo, of course, and some string-y, Percy-Faith-style pop. Luckily, Gau’s group has a rock-solid battery that includes a groovy bongo player.
The concert will be held at the Atlas Performing Arts Center in Washington, DC. It’s an all-American evening and I’m in illustrious company: the other two composers on the bill are Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copeland. I’ll be at the performance, so if you come, please say hello!