Thursday, May 8, 2014

A perfect short residence in Dallas

With Artistic Director Maria Schleuning
and pre-concert presenter Laurie Shulman
This past weekend, I travelled to Dallas, Texas for a three-day residence with Voices of Change. Currently in its 39th year, the ensemble is dedicated to performing new music, as well as music of the recent past. They have commissioned over twenty-five works, given more than seventy-five world premieres, and released five CDs, one of which was a finalist for a 1999 Grammy Award (classical small ensemble category). They regularly bring in composers from around the country, so I was excited when Artistic Director and violinist Maria Schleuning contacted me and said the ensemble would be featuring me and a few of my works on their series.

My residence involved several components: rehearsals of my Silver Dagger and The Book of American Poetry, Volume III; an outreach program at a local high school involving a performance of one of my works, followed up with a discussion about how I wrote the piece as well as questions from the students; a very spirited pre-concert discussion with Laurie Shulman, the program annotator and pre-concert presenter for the ensemble; and the concert itself. The performers were comprised of many top musicians in Dallas (several are members of the Dallas Symphony and Dallas Opera Orchestra) and were superb. I also met and worked with mezzo-soprano Claire Shackleton, who had an absolutely lovely voice and a theatrical flair to match; she sang my Book of American Poetry beautifully. Our rehearsals went so smoothly that I was able to make several last-minute adjustments to The Book of American Poetry, something you can only do when musicians have the music down cold!

With mezzo-soprano Claire Shackleton
Voices of Change also hosts a great tie-in event for their concerts called SoundBites. Held at Times Ten Cellars, this free event featured wine tastings while patrons listened to clarinetists Jonathan Jones and Jazmin Yuen perform my Stubborn as Hell. We also treated the audience to a short coaching session in which I shaped the piece with the musicians; this provided the audience with a behind-the-scenes look into how a composer operates. Activities like this are a fantastic way to take some of the mystery out of composing for non-musicians – not too much, but enough so they understand why and how we do what we do.

Voices of Change had another special event: three Texas-based composers who won the ensembles’ Young Composers Competition had their pieces performed by Dallas Symphony musicians in an hour-long workshop. I was on hand and offered constructive feedback, as did the musicians. I was also thrilled to meet Fabian Beltran (the first place winner) at this event, as he will be one of our participating composers at Fresh Inc Festival next month for which I’m on faculty along with Fifth House Ensemble and composer Dan Visconti (keep posted for blogs about Fresh Inc next month).

With composer Jack Waldenmaier
and board members Heather Carlile and Harvey Stiegler
Through it all, southern hospitality abounded. On the night I arrived to Dallas, Voices of Change board member Heather Carlile and her husband Jack Waldenmaier graciously threw a dinner party in my honor and invited several local composers and friends.  Board members, musicians, and staff drove me all over town for rehearsals, dinners, and receptions. When I didn’t have time to get supper between back-to-back events on Sunday, Maria brought me a delicious homemade meal. The townspeople were friendly, as were the drivers: at one point, I mistakenly crossed a street against a green light and into oncoming traffic. When I realized my error, I looked up at the driver who was patiently waiting for me to cross…without honking. Perhaps living and working in a major, bustling city has left me a little more jaded than I realized; nonetheless, I was touched by the hospitality I encountered in all aspects of my trip.

Voices of Change has made a strong commitment to the music of living and recent composers, and their residencies with living composers are wonderfully beneficial for both the residents and musicians of Dallas as well as for their featured composers. Anyone who is fortunate to be an invited guest by Voices of Change is in store for a perfect weekend!