Music

I’ve engaged with classical music over the years wearing a number of different hats: composer, performer, teacher, concert organizer, nonprofit administrator. This page will give just a sampling of work done in some of those roles.

   » Selected compositions    

String Quartet No. 1: Midwinter Fantasy (1997)

Played by the Lydian String Quartet: Daniel Stepner and Judith Eissenberg, violins; Mary Ruth Ray, viola; Rhonda Rider, cello

My String Quartet No. 1: Midwinter Fantasy is a piece in the tradition of Beethoven’s sixth (“Pastoral”) symphony—not programmatic in the sense of depicting actual events, but attempting to capture a certain range of moods or impressions. It is essentially a meditation on the changeable narrative of a New England winter: lowering clouds and biting wind, the sudden brilliance of sun on snowy roofs, the startling snap and shatter of a falling icicle. The quartet is in one continuous movement which divides roughly into four unequal sections, slow-fast-slow-fast.


Eleven Ostinato Variations (1999) for clarinet and piano

Played by Duo 101: Diane Heffner, clarinet; Megan Henderson, piano

 


Over the years, I have found myself increasingly drawn to the music of a number of Russian and east-European composers—Igor Stravinsky, Béla Bartók, Leoš Janáček, Witold Lutosławski, György Kurtág, Galina Ustvolskaya, and Sofia Gubaidulina, among others—whose work often embodies a certain obsessive quality. Melodies, rhythmic patterns, particular sets of chords will appear over and over again, sometimes serving a clearly referential, structural purpose, sometimes giving the music an air of meditative or ebullient or playful improvisation. Eleven Ostinato Variations continues an exploration of ways a similar quality can work itself out in my own style.

 

The Italian word ostinato traditionally refers to a specific musical technique: the “obstinate” repetition of a figure (often a bass line); in this piece it refers more loosely to a general climate of recurrence or insistence on a few basic ideas, even as they are constantly being varied. How such a procedure might result in a work comprising eleven sections of widely ranging character will, I hope, become apparent.


Sonata (1991) for flute and piano

    I. Allegro deciso
    II. Variations
Played by Fenwick Smith, flute; Randall Hodgkinson, piano
 

 

My flute sonata is the result of a chance remark made by the renowned flutist Fenwick Smith. No doubt unaware of the danger of saying such things to a composer, he was lamenting the scarcity of “big” American flute pieces. I, of course, immediately decided to write one. Taking “big” to mean both “long” and “substantial,” I ended up with the present two movements, which run some fifteen minutes.

 

The first movement, Allegro deciso, is mostly fast and athletic. The slower central rubato section actually contains the climax of the movement, although this may not immediately be apparent given the violence to come later. The second movement is a theme and variations, with the theme presented largely as a single line in the piano. This movement divides into two main sections: the first four variations get slower and slower, threatening to come to a complete standstill partway through variation 4 (which is marked, not surprisingly, Immobile); variations 5 through 7 begin fast and get faster still, eventually dissolving into a frenetic cadenza. After this subsides, the piece comes to a close with an eighth variation that, in a passage for solo flute, echoes the theme.


Chorales and Intermezzi (1993) for piano

    Chorale I
    Intermezzo I: Andante cantabile
    Chorale II
    Intermezzo II: Con fuoco
    Chorale III
    Intermezzo III: Tempo rubato, con calore
    Chorale IV
    Intermezzo IV: Largo e misterioso—Doppio movimento—Tempo I
    Chorale V
    Chorale VI
    Intermezzo V: Molto vivo—Molto tranquillo—Tempo I
Played by Randall Hodgkinson, piano


Chorales and Intermezzi is a fairly large (eleven-movement) piano piece, comprising five intermezzos alternating with six chorales. The chorales serve a function much like that of the “Promenade” movements in Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, providing both an introduction to the piece and transitions between the larger musical units. (The idea of having intermezzos connected by smaller interstitial movements is not as paradoxical as it seems: the intermezzo as a piece has developed far beyond the implications of its name—think of late Brahms.) All five intermezzos are more or less loosely (sometimes very loosely) based on Beethoven’s Opus 126 bagatelles, which I admire greatly. His formal, thematic, or harmonic/ intervallic ideas are used as a springboard for new invention.

00:00 / 12:06
00:00 / 13:52
00:00 / 14:54
00:00 / 16:15
Music-section-header-1.jpg

   » On stage and on disc    

It has been my pleasure to sing in the choruses of several notable New England–based ensembles—Boston Baroque (formerly known as Banchetto Musicale), Emmanuel Music, and the Handel and Haydn Society among them—under an array of outstanding conductors such as Christopher Hogwood, William Christie, Jane Glover, Grant Llewellyn, Harry Christophers, Craig Smith, and Laurence Cummings. (Two personal highlights: taking part in a trip to London with H&H to perform in the BBC Proms series in 2007, under the direction of Sir Roger Norrington, and participating in an acclaimed production of Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, imaginatively staged by Chen Shi-Zheng.) I was, in addition, a member for several years of the early music group Schola Cantorum of Boston, under its director Frederick Jodry.

 

This work also included a few recording projects:

All Is Bright, music for the Christmas season with the Handel and Haydn Society chorus and conductor Grant Llewellyn (2005, Avie Records AV2078)  Listen on YouTube
 

Heinrich Schütz, Geistliche Chormusik 1648: The Five-Voice Motets, with the Chorus of Emmanuel Music and conductor Craig Smith (1999, Koch International Classics)  Listen on YouTube

 

Heinrich Schütz, Geistliche Chormusik 1648: The Six-Part Motets, with the Chorus of Emmanuel Music and conductor Craig Smith (1993, Koch International Classics 3-7174-2H1)

Mozart: Solemn Vespers of the Confessor and Coronation Mass in C, with Banchetto Musicale and conductor Martin Pearlman (1990, Harmonia Mundi HMU 907021)

Emmanuel-Schutz-disc-cover.jpg

   » Administrative work    
 

On top of composing and performing, I’ve been active at times behind the scenes. From 1991 to 1994, I ran the New Music from Brandeis concert series, which presented dozens of works by graduate student and faculty composers at the school’s Slosberg Recital Hall. The job included overseeing all aspects of planning and production, including concert programming, budgeting, contracting musicians, arranging rehearsal schedules, and publicity.

 

From 1990 to 1997, I served as chair of the board of directors of the League–ISCM, Boston, a nonprofit organization affiliated with the International Society for Contemporary Music. Our mission was to promote the cause of contemporary classical music in the greater Boston area through programs that included an annual concert series, a semiannual calendar of contemporary music events, a composition competition, and various publications. As chair, I played a leading part in these undertakings, and also managed all fundraising and marketing efforts, acted as liaison with the international office of the society, and represented the United States at international music festivals. Noteworthy projects included the publication of Extraordinary Measures, a 96-page collection of easy-to-intermediate-level piano works by 33 Boston-area composers, and the American Score Exchange, a traveling archive of scores and recordings—featuring works of local, national, and international composers—which visited six sites around the U.S. in 1996–1997 to help increase mutual awareness and communication between the often fragmented regional new-music communities around the United States.

Extraordinary-Measures-cover.jpg