DearHocTok, Glad you appreciate the variety in my works. I find music a wonderful medium for travel…exploration of stylistic worlds, world views, mental states, and self as a feeling-oriented being. My 13-piece MEDITATIONS AND DANCES FOR THE MILLENNIUM CD started from the simple fact that I had just acquired a new Ensoniq MR synthesizer. I had always composed using the piano. So a plethora of sounds were exploding forth under my fingers, so I began improvising, and new pieces seemed to pour forth. What to do? It was 1997 or so, and the looming millennium demanded honoring and attention. I also felt the need to create and record music I could relax and meditate to. As I am a very spiritual being (all of us are, actually), I naturally leaned towards honoring Taoist notions. AS WE EVOLVE… I am of the notion that Homo Sapiens is just one imperfect stage on the road to human perfection, perfection meaning only perfectly fitted for the world we live in. We are clearly not there yet. FOR THOSE WHO and CREATURES OF THE LIGHT both honor those who are beginning to comfortably fit into the natural order. URBAN JOYS not only harkens back to the “joys” musical form of Jelly-roll Morton’s New Orleans, but also describes my pleasure at being a citizen of New York City these days. Other favorites of mine from the CD are PATIENT MERCY (FOR NELSON),SUN SURF, and CONCERTO FOR THE TAO.
SNAKE WOMAN is a dance score I created for the very fine Japanese dancer/choreographer Michiyo Sato. She needed music for a dance concerning a Japanese legend wherein a being half snake and half woman risks being burned alive. For some reason I chose bell-like sounds as base. I have always enjoyed writing for dance. Dance particularizes one’s compositional mental state. I served as Master Composer/conductor for The American Dance Festival’s Young Choreographer and Composer’s Project for some 10 years. I also wrote works as disparate as DEA DELL’ACQUA for Alvin Ailey and The Ballet Company of La Scala and TOUCH TURN RETURN for Brenda Bufalino and The American Tap Dance Orchestra. My working approach is usually to discuss with the choreographer where he or she wants to take the piece and where end up. Then I create a score without checking in back and forth along the way. I prefer to get lost in my piece, making moments that I think will turn the choreographer on and only then show it in some form, usually midi. I did though write a step-for-step score for Mark Dendy’s VEHICLE, which he had already totally choreographed at the American Dance Festival. Not my favorite route to a dance score. GIRL OF DIAMOND MOUNTAIN is a work I am still regularly performing as keyboardist with my Danish co-creator singer Lotte Arnsbjerg. It is a song cycle expanded by Caterina Bertolotto’s powerful projected art and Kiori Kawai’s excellent dance. Its subject is the experience of and transformational healing from child sexual abuse. People have been extremely excited about this work. Facing the premiere, which was at West Park Presbyterian here in New York in 2012, we were nervous because of the seriousness of the subject, but the audience went pretty wild about it, putting serious smiles on our faces.
Over the years I have had occasions to write many libretti, most of them for myself for works such as my MASS FOR THE 21st CENTURY. But I have done and still do them for composer colleagues from time to time. Recently I wrote 3 short comic libretti concerning Bre’r Rabbit and his world, which join together to make Nkeiru Okoye’s evening-long TALES FROM THE BRIAR PATCH. I am excited, anticipating what the gifted Nkeiru will compose for it. In 2005 I created a libretto for Alvin Singleton’s choral ballet TRUTH, honoring the great Slavery Era women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth. What both Alvin and I wanted to have the audience feel were everything from the icy cold of a slave’s cabin to the strength and daring of a freed black woman giving a speech so rousing as to change the course of 19th Century American thinking. We called upon both dance and the singing of the VocalEssence Choir of Minneapolis to help in this, and they did so very beautifully.
Alvin and I are presently creating an opera called SCHIELE, based on the life of the great Austrian painter Egon Schiele. I still have a way to go on this particular libretto, although I’ve finished a quite compelling sketch of all the scenes.
As a young man from Ohio, composing WILDFIRES AND FIELD SONGS for the New York Philharmonic and having it conducted by the great composer/conductor Pierre Boulez was a transformative experience for me. For one thing, I had just finished GOSPEL FUSE, which was commissioned by Seiji Ozawa for the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra when I received a commission from Boulez. Excited though dog-tired I launched into WILDFIRES as a 3-movement symphony, much more dissonant and in a way “expressionist” than FUSE. My wonderful Juilliard teacher, Vincent Persichetti, had a long heart-to-heart talk with me during which he called upon me to trust my ear and heart and to be fearless. Stranger still was the fact that unbeknownst to either party, San Francisco Symphony had scheduled FUSE for a Jan. 22, 1975 premiere in S.F. and the N.Y. Philharmonic had scheduled WILDFIRES for a premiere the very next night Jan. 23, 1975 in New York. On the programs were works by Mozart, Stravinsky, De Falla, and I believe Haydn. Dangerous!! But performances of both my pieces went beautifully, although I got very little sleep flying coast-to-coast-to coast that week. Maestro Boulez was especially encouraging and detailed in preparing and rehearsing the score, as was Maestro Ozawa. My latest symphonic work is MADIBA honoring Nelson Mandela, whose spirit and even voice I scored for cello soloist. The people of South Africa are represented by the string and woodwind sections, and the brass section, joined by percussion, represents the repressive power of the Apartheid government. That is until the redemptive moment (in prison) where a duet between cello and tuba (Mandela and de Klerk) turns all around bringing all instruments to sound together. MADIBA was commissioned and premiered by The American Composers Orchestra at Zankel/Carnegie Hall in 2015.
As for GODDESS OF THE WATERS, the great Alvin Ailey called me and said he’d heard some of my music and loved it and wanted me to make something for a choreography he was to create for La Scala Opera’s Ballet Company. That was GODDESS, which I composed for The Skymusic Ensemble, a group I’d founded in the late 1970s. Leading up to that Alvin climbed up to my 4th floor walk up apartment on Columbus Avenue on what had become very gimpy legs and knees. We had a great meeting, and as he left he said “I love your music, and we are going to make some wonderful pieces together in the future.” The successful performance in Milan of the ballet soon after came to be a kind of memorial. Little did either of us know that Alvin would be afflicted by and die from AIDS within the next year, and what we’d both looked forward to would never come to pass.
I have been blessed by a career filled with wonderful artists I’ve known and with whom I’ve shared excellent working situations. Robert Redford and Earl the Pearl Monroe were long-time tennis partners of mine. John Lennon and Yoko Ono have been friends, both of whom attended my N.Y. Philharmonic premiere. B.B. King came up and lectured at a class I was teaching at Yale University. At what is now New School University back in the day I had Peter Yarrow (of PP and M) as a student of the orchestration class I taught, and friend Frank Zappa lectured to my 20th Century Music class and subsequently led the whole class, Pied-Piper-like to hear him and The Mothers perform at Fillmore East. And of course by founding and performing with theSkymusic Ensemble I was graced by working with the world-class likes of saxophonist the late Sam Rivers, the late violinist Leroy Jenkins and other instrumental marvels Elliott Randall, Ken Bichel, Eli Fountain, Charles Burnham, Dale Kleps, Gordon Gottlieb, Marianna Rosett, Katherine Hay, Linda Wetherill, Daisy Jopling, Mark Heinemann, Brian Lee, and Eric Johnson.
And then there was the late Ornette Coleman, magic man and wonderful friend. I decided to write CONCERTO FOR ORNETTE suddenly out of the blue one day. A 3-movement orchestral work totally written-out, it calls for an improvising soloist reacting to the written music. Ornette loved the midi version I brought to his apartment to hear, so much so that he fetched his saxophone and started improvising along with it. Luckily enough, we both decided to record that session, albeit on his little Sony Walkman. I treasure that memento of Ornette. As he little by little began to lose his music-making abilities I found Joel Sachs and The New Juilliard Ensemble orchestra ready and able to perform the Concerto with top saxophone student Morgan Jones doing a wonderful job of respectably embodying Ornette. The master attended the premiere and was delighted.
Music and composition have indeed been the chariot that has afforded me true transport around this world.