I just can’t shut up about the Twin Cities orchestras.
Tucked into today’s encouraging tidbits of news
is one telling detail. The MN Orchestra board wants to restore the organization’s mission statement to its
former proper state (they removed the word “orchestra” last year, if you can believe it), but
“with two changes to emphasize community service and financial stability.” In that proposal is laid bare
the philosophical chasm that originally lead to this fiasco.
The words “financial stability” do not belong in any arts organization’s mission statement. Financial stability is a means, not an end.
The music is the mission.
Nothing prepares you for what the doctor says:
“You have brain cancer. The tumor is large and growing. We need to remove approximately one third of your brain, and we need to remove it immediately. If we don’t, you will be dead in five years.”
The NYT ran a dialogue called “Is Classical Music Dying?” My answer is a single two-letter word. (Hint: starts with ”N.”)
As the lockout of Minnesota’s two world-class orchestras continues, I’ve given a lot of thought to the dilemma. A credible outside perspective is hard to find, and we’re left in a “he said / she said” back and forth between management and musicians. Listening to it all, I believe them both on their key points: yes, an organization that is drawing heavily from its endowment cannot last — and yes, the proposed cuts would be an artistic kneecapping for the orchestras.
I’ve thought hard, and I’ve made up my mind. To accept the financial status quo is to doom the orchestras to a slow death — but to accept the proposed cuts is to kill them now. I wish the orchestras could last forever in their current state. But if that cannot be, if it comes right down to it and we are truly forced to choose, the orchestras should draw down their endowments. I’d rather have 10 more years of great music than 100 years of mediocrity.
The Broken Mirror of Memory is now released! (Fanfare!) And the best place to get it is straight from the artist. (That’s me!)
In this episode is one track from the new album. This is part 2; you heard part 1 in the last episode.
The bass clarinet has a kind of talking quality throughout part 2 that involves some unusual sounds you might not have heard before. You’ll hear a few bends and microtonal adjustments, and in many spots, Pat actually sings through the body of the instrument while playing. This does not produce two distinct notes as you might expect; instead, the voice and reed combine in a strange and beautiful way. You’ll also hear some damped notes in the piano, where I touch the end of the string while the hammer strikes. In the mixing process, I used a whole bunch of techniques to accentuate all these strange sounds, and make them even a bit more strange and emotionally immediate.
The point of all of these effects — beside just that they’re cool — is not to stand strikingly apart from the rest of the music, but to integrate with it. I always list Jimi Hendrix as one of my big influences, which sometimes gets strange looks, but I mean it. One of things he did so well was to take what we might call “extended technique” and make it feel not extended at all, but perfectly integrated into the musical expression, utterly a part of the syntax.
I was after some of that in part 2. I was also thinking of some traditional Bulgarian singing where vocal ornaments and strange uses of the voice meld perfectly into captivating sinewy melodies.
Coming out of the tense entanglement of part 1 into a vast, abstract, empty space, here is:
The Broken Mirror of Memory, Part 2
The equilibrium the music finds at the end of part 2, after all that wrestling, opens the door for the big emotional pivot that begins part 3.
If you’d like to hear the whole piece, you can stream a preview, and hopefully get yourself a copy, from my humble online store. Download, CD, and scores all available. What’s posted on this site is the mid-quality MP3 I use for the podcast, but I assure you, hearing the full-quality version on good speakers is a whole different experience.
My heartfelt thanks to everybody on Kickstarter who made this possible. I can’t tell you what it means to be able to release this recording.
The Kickstarter project for The Broken Mirror of Memory has passed its first major milestone! I’m now able to pay for printing the CD, and distributing in online music stores. Huzzah!! In celebration, and as a huge thank you to all the awesome backers who have pitched in so far, I’m posting part 1 (out of 4) of the piece.
Here it is!
The Broken Mirror of Memory, Part 1
This music comes right out of the gate at full speed, the piano and the bass clarinet in a state of swirling mutual entanglement. On the first note, Pat actually growls into the instrument while playing, producing a rough sound that punches right through the mix — but then the bass clarinet is immediately submerged under the piano, resurfacing, submerging again….
The movement leaves us hanging with a big thorny knot, energy spent but unresolved. It was only two minutes, but the music covered a lot of ground — and never once gave us a chance to truly rest. We’re desperate to catch our breath, and that is just what Part 2 does, answering density with spareness, crowded turbulence with isolated wandering in an abstract vastness.
When we get a bit farther down the road of Kickstarter goals, I'll post it.
We’re now stretching for the next goal on Kickstarter: raising enough to get the word out about the recording. If you haven’t backed the project yet, please consider it! You can get a CD and/or the full-quality digital version, which have a clarity and fullness of sound that these low-bitrate MP3 lack. (Plus, of course, the CD will have the complete piece!)
Update: The Kickstarter campaign was a smashing success! The recording is now released!
Astute readers of this blog will notice that it’s been a really, really long time since I've posted a new recording. I have not been musically idle, however! Oh no. I have been working my little pianist tusch off.
One of the projects I've been working on, years in the making, is now finally coming to fruition. It is a composition for bass clarinet and piano called The Broken Mirror of Memory. Here’s my attempt to describe the piece, from the score’s performance notes:
Entanglement, soliloquy, tango, flight: each movement poses a problem from which the next unfolds. Themes continually resurface, transformed, as the music reinvents its own past — the endless process Gabriel García Márquez described as “piecing together the broken mirror of memory from so many scattered shards.” The coda gathers everything together, grappling, burning down — and then, from the embers, a simple benediction emerges, present all along, now laid bare. We discover in retrospect that the music’s destination has always been its source.
I've made a recording with the excellent Pat O’Keefe on bass clarinet, and I've worked harder on this recording than any I've ever made. It takes the mixing and mastering to whole new level. I think it is my best work, and I can't wait for you to hear it!
But … I'm not posting it on In the Hands just yet. “Oh, Paul!” you cry. “Hear me out!” I reply. First, I'm doing a Kickstarter project to get the recording printed up properly, so that you’ll be able to get a copy and hear it in its full CD-quality glory! Yay! If you can spare the five minutes, here's a little video I made that discusses the piece and its story in more detail:
If you’ve enjoyed the recordings I’ve posted here over the years, please consider backing the project. I really put my heart into this, and I promise it’s worth it! And stay tuned — more is on the way.
Update: The campaign was a smashing success! The CD is now available.
Ten years ago, I was trying to figure out what the heck to do with myself. I wanted to stay serious about music and not give up my piano training,
but the world of professional piano performance was clearly not my cup of tea. I wanted a world my music could live in, and wasn’t sure where to find it.
Then these two delightfully crazy musicians named Carei Thomas and Todd Harper asked me to do a concert with them.
Matthew McCright will be premiering my Disembodied Dance this Saturday at Merkin Hall in New York City. A rough draft of the piece appeared on this blog; this weekend, you can hear the final product.