Today, I am presenting my case in my contempoary music seminar why John Corigliano is one of the greatest composers of the twentieth century. Perhaps the details will make their way onto the blog at a later date, but I just wanted to say there’s something absolutely breathtaking about Corigliano’s cyclical genius, his beautiful palette of colors, his sounds of textural diversity, his melodies and catchy motives, and the intellectual depth and social commentary within each carefully constructed work.

This morning, after a week of ups and downs (mostly downs), listening to “Prayer” from Corigliano’s Symphony No. 3, “Circus Maximus”, sent chills up my spine (as it always does). I’m fortunate enough that, even after all of these years, I am still incredibly moved by beautiful music, and this morning was no exception. I hope to never become too cynical to be emotionally heightened through music as so many in our profession fall prey. If you are in need of a soul search, beautiful and bittersweet moments of hope intertwined with nostalgia, this movement is for you.

“Prayer” from Symphony No. 3, “Circus Maximus”, John Corigliano

Money moment of power is at 4:40, but it only works if you listen through. Truly, this reflects the triumph of the human spirit over the drones of society.

You can find the full work here. Buy it. Support the arts. Support the brilliant musicians of the University of Texas who worked their tails off to pull this off. Support UT Austin for commissioning Corigliano to write the work. Support Corigliano so he continues to make masterworks.


Beethoven 9 (again!)

I know, all I’ve talked about lately is Beethoven 9. Still. Last night was the first combined rehearsal with the orchestra and choruses. And there is nothing like hearing the fourth movement to Beethoven 9 live. There’s something mystical about it, something that a recording can’t truly replicate. Particularly when the chorus numbers in the hundreds. Here is an excerpt from rehearsal last night. It’s interesting how such large numbers, such loud moments, can cover up some of the intonation issues (not all, of course) in an orchestra.

Excerpt from 4th movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9

Anyways, I’m actually looking forward to a massive performance on Friday. For all of my gripes about tempi choices, intonation issues, not counting, the scherzo in general, there are tutti moments like this that make it all worth it. All right, one more excerpt.
Beethoven 9, excerpt #2


Then and now…

The life of a musician, particularly one at the student level, is often a frustrating daily venture of practicing and incremental, perhaps imperceptible,  development.  Too often, at least personally, one gets frustrated at the routine of technique development for the exact reason of not being able to track development.  Only after a long period of time, in reflection, does one see the value of dedication and consistency.  Having the opportunity to work on Beethoven 9 this week has provided many challenges and offered the chance for self reflection.  I conducted excerpts of Beethoven 9 at the Bard Conductor’s Institute back in 2007, when I was quite the undergraduate.  I put a comparison video up between then and now.  It’s a good feeling to know that, over time, you are doing something right, and steps forward are being taken, even if they’re  not discernible on a daily basis.

Cheers for Fridays.


How to tell a story – conducting indulgences, lesson 1

I think if I ever teach a seminar or college in course, the first month of classes will involve gesture based emotions and story telling.  While a wealth of music throughout the centuries has been written for its serious academic and formulaic properties, owing nothing to external influences, all music has the potential to be affective to any individual.  I think this is one of the defining elements of what separates the perception of “music” and “noise”.  For more about that, please see my essay “Towards a Definition of Music”.  In either case, there exists an abundance of repertoire that does draw from external references: poetry, literature, paintings, personal relationships, personal crises, other composers, events in history, mythology, cultures and heritage, to name several.  These influences may be trivial, subtle, over-the-top, profoundly hidden ala the Hemingway iceberg, or blatantly professed in a superficial manner.  Even more profoundly invigorating is the notion that a composer’s intentions may align separately from the performer’s perception which may strike a different resonance in that of the listener.  This is what makes great music “great”.  I think this applies to all of the arts.

In any case, as a conductor, the ultimate responsibility of music performance lies in that of ensemble preparation, guiding interpretation, and communicating with performers and the audience.  The interpretation of a work offers the most flexibility for personal touch.  Certainly there are schools of thought that dictate the amount of liberty a conductor has in this endeavor; while we currently exist in a fairly restricted environment for conductor interpretation, there have been periods of extreme flexibility (which I believe we will be entering again in the next 15-20 years).  In any case, it is the conductor’s duty to navigate the ensemble and listener through any given work, creating points of contrast through carefully chosen phrasing, sensitivity to musical color and texture, and moderation of pacing in regards to tempo choices, etc.  What these strict elements of musical terminology essentially mean for the non listener can be summarized as being told a story.

That’s what music essentially is – well, a bulk majority of it – it’s a journey from start to finish.  Through lyrics, through motivic ideas, and so forth, the listener is presented with a fleeting thought that is in turn explored and considered.  The aggregate of these thoughts and musings comprises the work as a whole.  A great composer takes care that every note, every episode, every idea, fits intricately within a larger framework.  As a conductor, the ability to make these formal structures seem visceral in the shape of a story provides the foundation for which music is listened to.  Without this direction, the conductor is not a visionary.  He is nothing more than a traffic cop.

On a personal note of enlightenment, I am working on Beethoven 9 next week with the CSU Symphony Orchestra.  The way I’ve been approaching Beethoven 9 has been from a very technical perspective, with critical eyes towards harmonic progressions, key areas, formal structures, orchestration, motivic development, and theme areas.  What I had forgotten in my month of preparation, only to be realized about 3:00 this morning when I couldn’t sleep, was that I have to tell a story.  That it’s okay if I miss a cue (at least one of secondary importance) at the expense of truly communicating with my ensemble to collaborate a story for an audience.  The german augmented sixth chord before the recaptiulation of the first movement is not nearly as important as the tension of sound, pushing forth to the angered motive breaking out of its shell to release its wrath of frustration.

Lesson one for conducting, know the correlations between the written note and its ability to inspire stories through sound.  Tell a story.


A great article on music education repertoire

I stumbled, via facebook, across a collection of writings by author Stephen Budiansky on the nature of music education with regards to repertoire.  The collection of articles can be found here.  Money quote thus far,

What they play is always That Piece, as I’ve come to think of it. That Piece is not written by any composer you have ever heard of — not classical, not jazz, not pop, not rock, not blues, not folk, not alternative Czech heavy metal fusion, not nothing. You’ve never heard it on the radio, not even late at night at the bottom of the dial. It in fact exists nowhere in the known music universe — except for the twilight zone of school musical performance.

That Piece is nearly always written by someone who (a) is alive and collecting royalties, and (b) has a master’s degree in music education. It is always preceded by a very wordy description, read out to the audience by way of preparation, explaining that the piece (a) was inspired by a medley of Lithuanian folk songs and Gregorian chants that the composer heard while researching his master’s degree; or (b) depicts the journeys of Lewis and Clark and, if you listen carefully, you will hear the American Indian motif that represents the faithfulness and courage of their young Native American guide Sacagawea and then in the saxophones the sound of the rapids as the raft approaches and then the warning cry from one of the men on the bank and then the raft plunging down the rapids and then the return to calmer waters and then another set of rapids approaching and then. . . , or (c) evokes the soaring ideals we can all aspire to. (Pieces in this last category usually have “eagle” in their titles.) If I’ve heard That Piece once, I’ve heard it a hundred times. Different composers, different titles, same bombastic banality.

Happy readings.


Fridays are the best with only one class, at noon

This has been a fantastic week. The pace has been moderate, the workload light, the nights offering decent hours of sleep. In particular, I am looking forward to going to class in two to three minutes, and be finished for the day in an hour.

My initial plan was to practice, but my wrist is acting up today, so I think I may take a day off so it doesn’t hurt so much. This weekend’s agenda will feature my good friend Lisa Espinosa, of the Amani String Quartet, in a graduate cello recital. I have a church gig, and that’s about it. Should be wonderful.

And, for better or worse, I sent in an application for another summer festival. This one is particularly competitive, so we’ll see how it goes. I know they received my application because the application fee has been applied! Wish me luck, and I wish you the best of Fridays and weekends.


Nightly thoughts before bed – double bass recitals, and book recommendations from KOS

Today has been productive!  Who knew?  The definite highlight of the day was, oddly enough, a double bass recital.  Truly, I was taken aback at what a truly talented and dedicated bassist can do.  Everything about the recital was great – my friend/colleague picked great repertoire; a transcription of a Vaughn Williams suite for cello and piano, a Prokofiev quintet with oboe, clarinet, 2 violins, and bass, and a concerto by the Paganini of the bass, Giovanni Bottesini.  Until today, Bottesini was not a composer I’d ever heard.  I highly recommend his works; if on a technical level he is the Paganini of the double bass, his style reeks of Verdi.  It’s glorious; the concerto I listened to could easily have passed for a transcription of an opera sequence.  What great music.  In addition, the technical abilities were incredible, the intonation (even in the notes at the end of the fingerboard) was spot on, the phrasing was sensitive, tempi seemed organic….Even the flow of the recital paced well; between stage transitions (bass/piano to quintet and back again), prepared text that covered the length of the stage crew’s work.  It was funny, casual, interesting, and sincere.  I’m really glad I ended up going this afternoon.

On a side note, I do try to keep track of the world outside of music as well, and I came across a great article at DailyKOS.  From the introduction:

What do you think of when you hear the phrase “fantasy novel”?  Does it bring to mind vast kingdoms beneath an autumn sun? Lands where elves, dwarves, and other elder races live side by side with men? Does it make you think of dragons? Are there wizards in the story, or artifacts and weapons imbued with power from some bygone age?

How about a trio of women in a New England town whose attempts at witchcraft summon the devil into their midst? How about a story of multiple-generation family with a loose relationship to time? Or a home perched over an alchemical laboratory where things are endlessly created and destroyed? Chances are names like Updike, Borges, and Márquez don’t pop into your head as fantasy authors.

This is a must read if you are a fan of literature.  I just recently became terribly fond of Haruki Murakami, who wasn’t listed on the sample list.  I was happy to see, however, Garcia Marquez, as I fell in love him several years ago.  Oddly enough, his name has come up three times (or so) in the past two weeks.  Strange how these random thoughts, ideas, or references, always seem to sequence in groups.

Church gig tomorrow afternoon, then painting easter eggs with some of my closest friends here in Fort Collins.  Life is good.


Easter Greetings: Festivals, Practicing, and Chamber Music, oh my!

For those of you readers who didn’t see my facebook status update (or I didn’t tell personally), I was accepted on Thursday into the Round Rock International Conducting Workshop!  It’s kind of an interesting story how all of this panned out.

On Tuesday or Wednesday (I believe Tuesday), I received an early e-mail from my conducting teacher Wes Kenney with a forwarded message about this workshop.  Apparently there were two last minute cancellations, so they were reopening up the applications for two more (the workshop wanted exactly 12 particpants, which it stated well before these cancellations).  Luckily, since e-mail is synced to my phone, I got the link almost instantly.  The workshop will take place May 16-22 in Austin, Texas.  The timing couldn’t be any more perfect – I arrive into Texas on May 14th, have a graduation at Angelo State University (my alma mater) on the 15th, and a church gig early morning on the 16th.  So I decided to apply.  I sent an e-mail to the info address with links to my website and youtube page.  They seem to have liked my stuff (the Corigliano was mentioned specifically), and I was told I’d be hearing back in a few days.

Thursday, I got the official e-mail (along with one other individual), and a notice to respond quickly because there was quite a waiting list behind me if I chose not to go.  In a non-competitive way, it’s always a great feeling to know that somebody higher up in your field appreciated what you did enough to give you the opportunity to work with them.  So, as soon as I come up with tuition money, I’ll be gearing up for what should be a wonderful week with Peter Bay (Austin Symphony), Silas Nathaniel Huff (Astoria Symphony and Manhattan School of Music), and the Round Rock Symphony.  The repertoire for the program will include Corilianus Overture (Beethoven), Die Zauberflöte Overture (Mozart), and Dvorak New World Symphony (No. 9, published as No. 5, referred to by Dvořák as no. 8….strange?).

A quick tangent, the numbering of certain symphonies is such a bizarre and complicated situation that it’s irrelevant to give numbers.  This can be really frustrating, particularly for those symphonies without common nicknames.  All right, moving forwad.  One more tangent: I can’t decide if it’s worth copying and pasting certain letters to get the correct diacritic markings or not.  More on this later.

Today’s practicing goals: memorizing a Bach prelude and fugue that I’ve been working on for about three weeks, starting the Schumann a minor piano concerto cadenza (first movement), and do some metronome work with Waldstein.

As far as chamber music goes, I think I was only going to comment on how chamber music as an entity is certainly a comparatively weak area of repertoire knowledge for me.  One of the greatest things about being at Colorado State is the abundance of chamber music recitals that occur here.  My knowledge of the repertoire has grown immensely in just one short year.  For example, my love for Schubert has grown exponentially this year, after being exposed to his chamber music (whereas previously I was familiar with his symphonic writings and lieder primarily).  The Bb Major Trio for violin, cello, and piano?  Heaven.  I hear Brahms in a slightly different light after being exposed to new works.  And so on.  I think chamber music repertory is an absolute must for any budding conductor, or musician for that matter.  As a conductor, it’s extremely noteworthy to see now chamber musicians utilize nonverbal communication without a gesture based system.  This can certainly be transferred over into the conducting idiom, offering yet another tool in our arsenal of nonverbal communications alongside with gesture-based phrasing and articulation.  Plus, it offers such a great alternative window of perspective of a composer in a more intimate setting.

All right, Happy Easter, Passover, or whatever suits you, everyone.  I’m off to practice.


Daily Dose of Crumb

Good morning folks.  It’s 9:20 am, and I’m prepping for classes today by listening to both Bartok’s second string quartet and Crumb’s Black Angels (not simultaneously, of course, thought that might prove interesting!).  Those of you who know me personally are probably aware that I am not a morning person whatsoever, and being up in the 8:00 hour is a difficult endeavor for me.  Needless to say, coffee works wonders.  As do Bartok and Crumb to wake one up.

Speaking of coffee, I’ve begun writing a non-serious one act operetta called The Music School.  More to come later, but the basic plot line revolves around a certain number of stereotyped characters you might expect to find in the music school, professors and students alike.  The opening number for the operetta will feature a “Graduate Student” chorus singing about their addictions to coffee.  I’ve begun typing up some drafts, but I’ll post more as I do more with it.

Today’s agenda includes lecture/discussion on Bartok and Crumb (surprise!), a conducting lesson, rehearsal for the Brahms Clarinet Trio in a minor, Beethoven 9 (movements 3 and 4), then a coaching session with the string faculty for the Brahms.  Then, a bit of free time and helping a friend design a poster for her upcoming graduate recital.

Beethoven 9….What’s your favorite movement or part?


Server Malfunction

Surprise!  Technology has once again shown me the ugly side of unfortunate accidents.  After a massive server crash of sorts, my old blog was deleted (as was my web domain).  While I have the website backed up on my pc, I am not quite tech savvy enough to do this with a WordPress blog.  So, there you have it.  The joys of starting over, reintegrating with facebook/twitter, recreating a look/layout, and all of that jazz.  More to come soon.