2004 December at John Mackey's Blog



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  • December 27, 2004

    Circus Maximus

    A few days ago, AEJ and I stopped by John Corigliano’s apartment to give him his Christmas present. We were planning to leave it with the doorman, expecting John to be out of town for the holidays, but he was there, so we got to deliver the gift in person.

    When we entered his studio, we saw the score for his new wind ensemble piece, “Circus Maximus.” I told him that I’d heard great things about the piece during the Midwest convention in Chicago the week before, and John offered to play the recording of the first few movements for us. AEJ and I were mad excited.

    Okay, so I’m pretty new to wind ensemble repertoire — I’ll admit that right now. But “Circus Maximus” is, without question, the most important piece of music to hit the repertoire during my conscious lifetime. Corigliano has not written “Corigliano does Band.” This is pure, 100% Corigliano. It sounds like Corigliano, it looks like Corigliano on paper (lots of aleatoric music, etc.), it’s theatrical, ballsy, ingeniously structured, funny, loud, terrifying, and simply brilliant.

    And it sounds like really, really loud orchestra music.

    Even fans of “band” music have to admit that a lot of band music sounds like band music. Not so here. This piece sounds like it’s an orchestra piece that just has no need for strings.

    Within 3 minutes, Abby and I both thought, “Is this piece going to win him another Pulitzer?”

    We only heard a reading of the first three movements. I believe there are 5 total, but the UT wind ensemble was simply reading the piece on the recording (sight reading?! good lord, they’re astonishing), and John said it got rougher as it went on (it’s 40 minutes long), so he only played us the first part. Also, the piece is written with true “surround sound,” so there are instruments — lots of them — spread all around the hall. This wasn’t obvious on the 2-channel CD, of course, but by following the score, it was clear that this piece was going to be another 1000% better in person. When Corigliano nails something, there’s nothing better, and man, he totally nailed “Circus Maximus.”

    Wow, I’m excited to hear the premiere at Carnegie Hall in February


    December 26, 2004

    Sad Entry

    I learned on Christmas day that my uncle Rick passed away last Tuesday. I always thought of Rick as a hobbyest drummer, but my dad told me that Rick actually played on a few albums that I’d heard of. I know one of the tunes really well, and I always liked it, but now I can’t stop listening to it, analyzing every note in the drum part. The song is “Precious and Few,” a hit in the 1970s by Climax. I bet you’d recognize the song. You can listen to it by clicking here. (Please don’t report me for posting that. It’ll be our secret.)

    It’s surreal learning that a family member played on a song that I know well, but learning of his connection to it only after he passes away. I never knew Rick well, so being able to listen to him play drums on this recording feels like a chance to finally know what he was like.


    December 22, 2004

    New Antares CD

    The first commercially available CD containing one my pieces — “Breakdown Tango” — will be released in January on the Innova label. I just got an advance copy, and it’s friggin’ fantastic.

    Check it out.

    1 Comment

    December 21, 2004

    Trim Up The Tree

    Okay, it’s time for another photo blog entry! This one — unlike the food-heavy entry about my trip to Tempe — will be completely unprofessional. Enough music stuff for a few days…

    So, AEJ and I put up our tree on Sunday! We love it. It’s the tallest tree I’ve ever had, standing almost 9 feet high! (Note to self: 9′ trees are heavy. Next year, opt for delivery.)

    Before we headed out to get the tree, AEJ tried on the tree skirt, just to make sure it would fit.

    It fit great, and Loki approved, so we started our quest for Our Tree.

    We found a great one. Here it is before we unwrapped it. As I said, it’s tall (and in this picture, quite crooked).

    After setting it free from that horrible netting, AEJ climbed the ladder and put the star on top. We decided it was easier to put the star on top at the beginning rather than the end, because the tree — we named it Fances, or maybe Frances (it’s a boy, unlike last year’s tree, Fancy) — would get fatter as the branches settled, and it would only get more difficult to reach the top. (Note that AEJ is always the one on the ladder, as she’s considerably taller than I, which comes in very handy for star attachment. Don’t confuse her with the Bumble from Rudolph, though.)

    Now it’s time to put on the lights!

    It’s taking a long time to finish the tree. Fortunately, the snowmen and snowwomen can keep themselves warm by the candle.

    We need more lights! I’ll open the box, with Loki’s “help”.

    We can’t forget to hang the stockings by the fire…

    Which are our favorite ornaments this year? It’s hard to pick favorites — they’re like children! (or, maybe not) — but my favorite new ornament this year is this one:

    … whereas AEJ’s favorite is the squirrel:

    And we’re done! We love the tree, and miraculously, Loki has largely ignored it so far. He likes sitting under it, and hiding behind the presents. (Hey — how are there presents there already? Did Santa come early? And one of the presents is already unwrapped! What’s going on here?!)

    Happy holidays, everybody! And don’t worry; the blog will return to less picturesque entries soon.


    December 19, 2004

    Home Sweet Home

    I’m back from Chicago. It was a fun and worthwhile trip. I left with two new commissions!

    One is from the SEC conference, and I’m truly excited about this. The consortium has commissioned a 10-minute piece, to be completed in Fall 2005. What to do?! I don’t need to worry about it yet — as I have two other commissions to finish first — but I’m so excited that it’s hard not to start thinking about it.

    The other commission is for an “easier” piece, or, in band lingo, “Grade 4.”

    (Band music is categorized by difficulty levels referred to as “grades,” ranging from 1-6. A “Grade 1” piece is extremely easy, and intended for musicians who are just learning their instruments. “Grade 3” is fairly easy, and intended for a fairly good middle school or moderate-level high school. “Grade 6” is the top level, and generally playable by only the best-of-the-best ensembles. “Redline Tango” is a Grade 6 piece.)

    As I was saying… I’ll be writing a Grade 4 piece. This commission comes from my high school friend, Josh Thompson, who now has a high school band in Illinois. I ran into him at the Midwest conference last year, and we’ve been in touch ever since. He e-mailed me at one point over the summer, asking about the logistics of commissioning a piece. After I replied to him with a price quote, I didn’t hear from him again. (This happens fairly often.) When I saw him last week, though, he said he was definitely interested, and we talked about what kind of piece I’d write for him. When I saw him later that day, he had already found a few other directors who wanted to join his consortium. By the next morning, he had even more! He’s moving along, and it looks like it’s actually going to happen. This will be a fun project, as Josh and I have known each other for many years, but this will be our first time working together. Also, it’ll be a fun challenge to write a piece that isn’t nearly impossible to play.

    Midwest was a lot of fun. I met a lot of great people — from the UConn posse to the gang at UT Austin to my new buddies at Northwestern and on and on — and also learned something about myself. Something deep? No. You know how people say, “I’m too old now to go out drinking until all hours of the night.” I wondered when I would reach that age. Well, I learned a few days ago that I have, in fact, reached That Age. No more drinking cheap wine until the middle of the night. No sir. I can’t do it anymore. My partying days — so briefly enjoyed — are now officially behind me. When somebody approaches you the next morning and asks, “Do you remember me from last night?” — and you don’t — well, it’s time to slow down.

    Chicago was fun, but it’s good to be home in New York. Last night, AEJ and I rearranged some furniture to make room for a Christmas tree. This afternoon, we’ll head out and pick out our tree. This will be Loki (our cat)’s first Christmas tree. Loki’s a little crazy (a product of a little too much inbreeding), and we’re a little worried that he’s going to pull the tree down. Wish us luck.