As a composer and performer, I relish collaboration, both with poets and with fellow musicians. When writing for the voice, I greatly prefer working with living poets and always seek to involve them from the outset of a project. I find their input helpful in shaping my own creative process.
When bringing a new work to life for the first time, I often have specific performers in mind. They too prove to be an invaluable resource, helping to solidify the technical specifications that will be pragmatic for a particular work. But it is not only an artist’s technique that interests me: it is the individual sound that they make when playing or singing. For instance, a flutist with whom I’ve collaborated over a fifteen year period has amazing breath control, along with an incisive way of playing rhythm. His particular combination of style and technique informed my choice to incorporate a swing section into a recent commission.
It is equally exciting to see one of my compositions evolve through subsequent performances and interpretations. Sometimes, another artist will bring something entirely different yet compelling to a piece. One of the principal joys a composer can have is to hear multiple renditions of the same work. It also can be a new opportunity for collaboration and revision, through the rehearsal process.
One of my most recent works is a case in point for this collaborative process. It was commissioned by a chamber ensemble that specializes in contemporary classical music and is capable of playing some of the most challenging scores in the repertoire. Knowing this allowed me great freedom in terms of the technical demands I imposed on the players. Thus, the last section of the piece includes quarter-tones, notes one finds “between the cracks” on the piano keyboard. Many of my pieces do not include extended techniques, but in this one I was able to experiment with them.
In the spirit of making the commission my own, I didn’t just focus on complexity: I also made sure to include melodic material and harmonies that would often coax them to play in a “lyrical” fashion. My own predilection for music that “sings,” irrespective of medium, thus was able to be represented by the piece as well. The tension that resulted between dissonance and consonance, lyricism and thorniness, simplicity and complexity, helped to express the conflicts that I wanted to explore in the piece. Having players who were willing to experiment at either edge of their comfort zone was a great help in bringing this piece to life.