Carnegie Hall Workshop: Day 6

Over the last few days we have been talking a great deal with Kaija about building your own hierarchy of musical parameters and prioritizing. What is the most important idea to express in this piece? Which parameters can enhance it? Which will muffle it or destroy it? Where must you hold your ground when it comes to the performance and where can you give way in the name of that one most important thing?

After hearing The Child come together over the course of several days and getting more familiar with the material and the different sections, I started to feel like the piece was dragging somewhat. Certain elements, which were borrowed from other sections, began to seem foreign and unnecessary in their new environment. Still lacking enough confidence to trust my intuition, I really appreciated Kaija confirming it to me in her quiet way. Almost as soon as she said it, I knew instantly which bits to cut and which to alter slightly. It felt like surgically removing cancerous growths to make the body more like its true self.

In the past I had more of a tendency to compose from the first bar to the last, which often resulted in music that changed constantly. In an effort to avoid this in The Child, I felt compelled to bring certain elements back almost obsessively. All it did was burden the totality of the piece, which was already unified by my unconscious intention. But to hear that, I really needed to get to know the sound of the piece. Some elements looked perfectly fine on paper. The notes and transitions worked. It was their sound and intention that didn’t.

The last few days at this workshop have been putting me in a strange frame of mind. Hearing so much string music in such an intimate setting has made me want to hide away somewhere and descend into a very small, dark place within myself. Watching Anssi coaching the players and hearing his performer’s take on the music has added to that enormously. The breathing and sighing… the scratching of the horsehair on the string… the fragile harmonics…These are the musical parameters I want to explore. Even thinking about the 12-part piece I have to write next week seems much too loud in this place of mind.

When introducing her Nocturne for solo violin at Friday’s string master class, Kaija said something that shook me to the core. This piece was written in memory of Lutoslawski. Kaija said that when writing it, she was thinking about his life, and life in general…and the fragile harmonic, which must after all come to an end.

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