Thursday, December 18, 2014

Winter update 2014

I love this blog. I value each of the articles here. I also seem to rarely have the time to write articles in the more extended format I feel this blog deserves. That's why over the last year I've also expanded to a second blog, which I guess deserves mention here. The blog is, more of a 'micro-blogger' platform where I post some original content but also share interesting finds. I find myself posting a lot of quotes, articles, and artwork that inspire me or provoke thoughts.

This fall has been very busy with my doctoral degree, I feel that I'm finally learning how to handle life (including now three children) alongside of being a composer (or vice versa). I composed a trumpet/piano piece for a fellow graduate student at ASU, as well as working on several commissions that came in this fall. I've also been rehearsing and performing with a percussionist as an improv duo.
a sample of the great content going up on my tumblr blog (my son Nikolas reading a hymnal intently)
More about my prolific hymn writing activity after the break...

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Alfred Schnittke on his film music

Alfred Schnittke | Declaration of Love
from the soundtrack to the 1983 film Сказка странствий (A Fairytale of Wanderings)
Haunting film music from one of Russia's great iconoclast composers.

Alfred Schnittke on his film music:

For several years I experienced an inward urge to write music for the cinema and theater. At first I enjoyed doing this, then it became a burden, and then it dawned on me: my lifelong task would be to bridge the gap between serious music and music for entertainment, even if I broke my neck in the process. 
I have this dream of a unified style where fragments of serious music and fragments of music for entertainment would not just be scattered about in a frivolous way, but would be the elements of a diverse musical reality: elements that are real in the way they are expressed, but that can be used to manipulate–be they jazz, pop, rock, or serial music (since even avant-garde music has become a commodity).*

From the musical point of view I found myself with a split personality. I had my own interests–an interest in modern musical techniques, in new compositions; I studied all this and made use of it in my music. But life saw to it that for about seventeen years I worked in the cinema much more and more often than I ought to have done, and by no means only in films that I found interesting. 
Eventually I began to feel uncomfortable, as though I were divided in half. At first the situation was that what I was doing in the cinema had no connection with what I was doing in my own compositions. Then I realized that this would not do: I was responsible for everything I wrote. This kind of split was inadmissible, and somehow I had to revise my views of both kinds of music. And apart from that, I gained no satisfaction from–speaking frankly–producing music by calculation. I am simplifying, of course; there was more to it than mere calculation. I realized that there was something radically abnormal in the split that exists in modern musical language, in the vast gap between the laboratory "top" and the commercial "bottom."
This gap had to be bridged, not only by me in my own personal situation, but also as a general principle. The language of music has to be unified, as it always has been; it has to be universal. It may lean one way or the other, but there cannot be two musical languages. And yet growth of an avant-garde in music has led to a conscious split and the discovery of a new elitist musical language. So I began to look for a universal musical language. From the musical point of view, this was what my evolution appeared to be.  

Alfred Schnittke | Concerto Grosso No. 1 | V. Rondo

A composer working in the cinema inevitably runs risks. There are good reasons for the fact that in America one has the profession of composer and the profession of Hollywood composer–something quite different. In the West at the present time [1984] not one decent self-respecting composer is working in the cinema. The cinema cannot but dictate its terms to the composer. The case of the collaboration between Eisenstein and Prokofiev [on 1938's epic Alexander Nevsky] is perhaps the only exception; maybe there are others. But even Shostakovich had to submit to the dictates of the film director. 
There is nothing you can do about that–it is not so much the dictates of the director as the specifics of the medium in which one must work. Being aware of this it is possible–and this is what I have tried to do in recent years–to work with those directors in whose films interesting musical tasks arise of their own accord. 
When I complain about the excesses of my own work in the cinema, I have in mind not everything I have done and not everyone with whom I have worked, but those cases forced on me by practical considerations, when I was compelled to write absolute rubbish. 
From the outset, my work in certain films was experimental: one day I would write something, the next day listen to the orchestra play it, not like it, change it on the spot, although I might have tried out a certain device, an orchestral technique, or something else. In this respect, I gained a great deal from the cinema.
Then too, the actual treatment of the inferior material inevitably dictated by the cinema may prove useful for a composer (I can't remember how many many marches for brass band and banal waltz tunes, how much chase music, gunfight music, landscape music I wrote). I can transfer one or another of the themes into another composition, and by contrast with the other material in that composition, it acquires a new role. For example, my Concerto Grosso No. 1 [see video above] includes a tango taken from the film The Agony, abotu Rasputin. In the film it is a fashionable dance of the day. I took it from the film and by giving it a contrasting context and a different development tried to give it a different meaning.**
*[Russian text published in Besedy s Al'fredom Shnitke, compiled and edited by A.V. Ivashkin (Moscow: Kul'tura, 1994), p.233. Quoted from A Schnittke Reader, edited by Alexander Ivashkin, 41-42. Translated by John Goodliffe. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2002.]

**[From a 1984 conversation with N. Shakhnazarova and G Golovinsky, published in Novaya zhizn' traditsii v sovetskoi muzyke: stat'i i interv'yu [New Life for Traditions in Soviet Music: Articles and an Interview] (Moscow: Sovetskii Kompozitor, 1989), pp. 332-349. Reprinted in Besedy s Al'fredom Schnitke, compliled and edited by A.V. Ivashkin (Moscow: Kul'tura, 1994), p. 124. Quoted from A Schnittke Reader, edited by Alexander Ivashkin, 50-51. Translated by John Goodliffe. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2002.]

Monday, April 14, 2014


Premiered January 24 & 25 2014

Breaking Ground Dance & Film Festival

Tempe Center for the Arts

Choreography | Carley Conder

Dancers | CONDER/Dance

Sculpture | "Urchin Spine" by Pete Deise

Music | R. Michael Wahlquist, sampling Son Lux's "Speak"

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Schnittke's rejection letter to the Lenin Prize Committee

In 1990, Russia was changing fast. The single-party system of communism was giving way to a multi-party system. Gorbachev's glasnost and perestroika were proving the undoing of the Soviet Union - its dissolution was less than a year away.

From composer Alfred Schnittke (1934-1998), one of the most unique Russian composers since Shostakovich, we get an interesting glimpse into the change in attitude sweeping into Russia - emboldened, cautiously optimistic, and at last free to speak one's mind.
Composer Alfred Schnittke (1934-1998)
image courtesy Wikimedia Commons
In the following letter to the Lenin Prize Committee, Schnittke gives his faith-based reasoning for rejecting the Soviet Union's most prestigious musical prize (This would have been the equivalent of rejecting the Pulitzer Prize!). His thoughtful argument presupposes the idea, all too easily forgotten in our permissive time, that religious voices deserve representation and recognition. As a convert to Christianity from the early 1980s, Schnittke here performs the verbal equivalent of toppling Lenin from the pedestals on which he was so literally and ubiquitously exalted in the Soviet Union.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Six sites worth your time

I'll admit that I've struggled as much as anyone to balance the all-pervasive influence of the Internet in my life. The proverbial cat videos and catchphrase GIFs can really eat up your day. For that reason, I love it when I find a site where the content is curated a little more carefully. Someone else has already gone through the selection process of what is praiseworthy. Of course there is Wikipedia, which can lead to nearly endless chains of articles that take you from fish to space dust to Finland before you know it. If you like revealing reads, fascinating facts or trusty tools, you'll like the sites on this list, some of my favorite places on the internet. When I'm not giggling at Cracked, that is.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Mentions in the Press, January 2013

I feel a little bit like Mike Wazowski, when he is happy that he is on TV even though his face is covered. This weekend I've got a piece being danced to at the Breaking Ground Dance Festival, and it is mentioned in this article. The piece is called subtidal, and although I'm not mentioned by name (the article probably went to print well before I was brought in on the project) it is still pretty cool to see this kind of press for something I'm associated with! If you're in the Phoenix Area this weekend come on out to the performance!