19 November 2009

Composing, Kids and Concerts

I had two performances this past weekend on the Finger Lakes Dance! concert held at The Cracker Factory in Geneva, N.Y. The concert was directed by Cadence Whittier—Assistant Professor of Dance at Hobart and William Smith Colleges.

To say The Cracker Factory is a unique space is an understatement. The 70,000 square foot building—an old manufacturing warehouse—is owned and operated by Brandon and Amy Phillips. The husband and wife team are custom furniture makers that use the ground floor to operate their business, SMC Furnishings. They have somehow found time to nurture the building back to health after years of neglect as well. The second story has a refinished floor that serves as a multimedia performance space. The Cracker Factory has now played host to the Finger Lakes Film Festival and Finger Lakes Dance!, and several projects are on the burner for the spring.

The audience for the Finger Lakes Dance performance sat in a semi-circle initially, but were sometimes directed to move their chairs depending on how the choreographer wished to have their work viewed. During a performance by tap artists, and dance icon Bill Evans, the audience actually walked thirty feet to the far corner of the performance space were a floor was set up specifically for the tap performance. The audience actually stood during the performance of the seven-minute piece. I am all for engaging the audience as much as possible. I think that when they feel part of the performance space, they become actively engaged in the performance, instead of sitting back and merely allowing the art to happen around them.

One of the most interesting characteristics of the space are the white supporting posts in the middle of the space that divide the room lengthwise. Several choreographers used the posts as props—weaving in and out, shielding themselves from the audience, or physically interacting with them.

I participated as a pianist for three works. The first piece on the program was danced by Missy Pfohl Smith and Donna Davenport titled "In the Air." The dancers started moving to Bach's Air on the G String while the audience was still getting settled in. The dancers started out of the direct view of the audience, near a corner window and slowly made their way toward the center of the floor. As the Bach finished, I made my way to the piano from my seat and started to improvise music inspired by the Bach. The audience had no idea I was a musician. I played a descending chromatic passage in E minor, with simple, austere melodies. The melodies slowly made their way to a fuller texture about two-thirds of the way through piece before settling back into simple first species (note against note) counterpoint.

The second half of the concert began with a piece I wrote and performed for Missy Pfhol Smith's company, BIODANCE titled I.T. (Information Technology.) The piece explores how technology impacts our relationship with nature and with each other. I wrote the piece for synthesizer and computer and percussion. My friend and colleague, Dennis Mariano, was enlisted to work his percussion magic.

Finally, the last piece I was involved in was a collaboration with Donna Davenport on a new composition titled "Tandem:" a whimsical search for visual parity explored through the interaction with the pianist (me!) onstage. The piece ended with Donna and me lying vertically, reaching out towards each other while I tried to play the instrument on my side with one hand. The score was created in direct collaboration with Davenport's dance. The music starts with a one octave D-flat major scale, followed by a sleuth of elementary technique exercises, while the dancer performs ballet technique at the bar. Then, both the dancer and the pianist break out into an attention deficit disorder induced stylistic free-for-all. The score toggles between "traditional" concert rhetoric and popular music styles such as jazz and funk. The stylistic changes are tied together by a single note, rhythmic motif, or harmonic center. The concert was well attended both evenings and the reception was warm and enthusiastic. I was very happy I was able to be a part of it!

Okay, purchasing a plane ticket for Idaho today. I have a world premiere (that's fun to say) at Boise State University on 3 December 2009 by The Rothko Piano Trio of my piece Trio for the Common Man. It is especially exciting because my friend Jo Nardolillo will be playing violin. We have collaborated before. I wrote her a duet for violin and cello titled Suite for Jules that she premiered in Rochester, NY back in 2007 and she has also performed my first piano trio. Then, I am off to Minnesota for a performance. I received an email the other day that a friend of mine, Catarina Domenici opened with a piece of mine in a concert in Sao Pauolo, Brazil. It is really exciting when people actually perform your music. I have other pieces that have never really quite received the performance exposure—for whatever reason—that I had wished. I am currently finishing a piece for the acclaimed Society for New Music for a premiere on 18 April 2010.

A special congratulations to Gwendolyn McNamara for being my 40th Follower. She wins an additional one year subscription to my blog, where she will be subjected to all my ranting and raving, personal bias, and subjective opinions.

A very special congratulations to my son Julian for coming in first place in his kindergarten "turkey trot." He finished first out of the three kindergarten classes. He is currently looking for sponsorships for the 2010 race season.

1 comment:

Gwen said...

Thanks for borrowing such a fabulous picture of me to put on your blog...I truly appreciate the gesture.