2012 November at John Mackey's Blog



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  • How I Spent My Teen Years
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  • November 29, 2012

    December, let’s DO this!

    Lots of fun coming up over the next month…

    Tomorrow (Friday), I travel to Greensboro, North Carolina, for the weekend. There’s a dress rehearsal Saturday, and then on Sunday afternoon, the world premiere performance of my newest piece, “The Frozen Cathedral.” The concert is at 1:30 on Sunday. I’ve only ever heard the MIDI of the piece, so I’m excited (and nervous… okay, mostly nervous) to hear it in person. Even my dad is coming to the concert. He’s driving — 8 hours from northern Ohio. Jeez, I hope the piece doesn’t suck.

    I fly home Monday, and then on Thursday, I head to Millikin University in Illinois. Two of the ensembles there are playing my music, and a local high school group is playing “Sheltering Sky.” On Saturday, I fly from Illinois back to Greensboro, where UNCG will record “The Frozen Cathedral” on that Sunday and Monday. Then, home on Tuesday.

    The following weekend, I head to NYC to see the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater perform “Strange Humors,” with the original (completely badass) choreography by Robert Battle.  This is the first piece of mine that the company has put into the rep since Robert Battle (for whom I wrote “Strange Humors,” as well as “Breakdown Tango,” “Damn,” “Rush Hour,” “Mass,” and “Juba“) became Ailey’s new Artistic Director.  “Strange Humors” enters their rep during their 4-week City Center run in New York, and then will be seen on tour over the next year.

    Then home for one day, and then: The Midwest Clinic! My performances this year, which I hope to attend in between my visits to the Hilton bar, are:

    Wednesday, December 19, 5:30pm: The United States Air Force Band performs “Sheltering Sky,” guest conducted by Tim Lautzenheiser.  (The USAF Band is giving two concerts with completely different programs. Go to both if you can.)

    Friday, December 21, 5:00pm: The Woodlands High School Wind Ensemble performs “High Wire,” conducted by Joni Perez

    Friday, December 21, 6:15pm: Senzoku Gakuen College of Music Blue Tie Wind Ensemble (whew, that is a mouthful) performs “Harvest: Concerto for Trombone” with New York Philharmonic Principal Trombone JOE ALESSI (!!!), conducted by Jerry Junkin

    Friday, December 21, 7:30pm: drinks

    It’s going to be a jam-packed couple of weeks.

    And let’s not forget about Christmas! I know Loki, for one, hasn’t forgotten. Here, Loki sings you a sort of a holiday greeting. (Warning: extremely creepy video. Blame David Rakowski.)


    November 18, 2012

    Austin, part 3 : Showtime

    So far, I’ve blogged twice about my recent trip back to Austin. There was the first post, covering the UT-Baylor football game, and then the second post (the second one usually follows the first), covering a delicious dinner at Uchiko. Today’s post covers the concert (in theory, the main reason I was there), and a few odds-n-ends.

    So… I was on campus for a performance of my new(ish) percussion concerto, Drum Music, co-commissioned by UT. The piece premiered a year ago, and I revised it pretty heavily after that premiere. This was my first time working with the piece since those revisions, and it appears that I’m not quite done tweaking. One seemingly small – but aurally significant – change that Tom Burritt (UT’s percussion professor) and I changed this time was the highest drum in the last movement. I’ve always wanted a sound with a strong “pop,” but had been reluctant to use a snare drum, thinking it would be cliche. It turns out, though, that a snare drum really is the best sound, and it offers the most dramatic contrast with the other five tom-toms. We didn’t use a normal snare, but Tom instead selected a 13″ piccolo snare. He’d been using that as the highest tom anyway, so it was ready to go; we just decided that the snares needed to be turned on. It was a great sound.

    There are still some orchestration problems with the last movement. Friend-of-the-blog (and incredibly prolific blogger himself — with no fewer than FOUR blogs – count them! – one! – two! – three! – four!) David Rakowski listened to the webcast of UT’s second performance of the piece, and he thinks the problem is that the counterpoint that’s audible in the MIDI gets buried in actual performance. I think he’s right, so I’ll probably make one more pass at the orchestration before Tom Burritt and Jerry Junkin next perform the piece with the Dallas Wind Symphony next spring. I don’t write a lot of counterpoint, and that last movement is one of the exceptions, so it’s a shame that what counterpoint is there isn’t audible.

    The performance with Tom and the UT Wind Ensemble – conducted by Jerry Junkin – was excellent. As soon as I have a recording of their performance, I’ll post it. It really is about time I post a full recording of the piece. (This photo was taken by Liz Love. Thanks, Liz Love!)

    Tom has already performed the piece twice – and he’s doing it again with the Dallas Wind Symphony in the spring. He’s a monster player. I can’t wait to hear what he does with it next time around. I think I’ll finally have the piece figured out by then.

    The Austin trip was loaded with good times. There was the evening at my favorite restaurant in Austin, Fonda San Miguel, where there were excellent margaritas (and Steve Davis’s head)…

    … delicious enchiladas, and the best tres leches cake in the world.

    The day after the concert, I spoke with the UT composition students and presented my Soprano Sax Concerto (and the new recording by Tim McAllister).  I love participating in composer forums when I visit a college campus, but it doesn’t always happen.  Not surprisingly, it’s not unusual that the schedule just doesn’t work out for me to speak with the composers.  (My visit is timed to coincide with a dress rehearsal and a concert, not necessarily to coincide with a comp forum.)  Sometimes, the band program and the comp program don’t have the relationship that – in my opinion – they should.  Other times, things in the comp program are just not so… welcoming. (During my otherwise wonderful visit to UM-Duluth last year, I asked to speak with the comp students about establishing an income-earning career as a composer. My request: actively denied.  Srsly?)  The department at UT, I’m happy to say, has always been very welcoming.  This was my third time speaking with them over the years, and I always find that the students are engaged and have great questions. (Sadly, my comp forum didn’t generate rave reviews like David Rakowski recently received at Ithaca.)

    My most recent piece is “The Frozen Cathedral,” which will premiere in just a few weeks. As I was finishing the piece, I sent the harp part (which is extensive) to my friend Vince Pierce, a harp student at UT, asking if he would go through it with me. Vince was generous enough to work with me for an hour while I was on campus. With his help, I made a lot of improvements to the harp part, making it more idiomatic and making it sound better. (I should probably write a full blog post about the changes he suggested. Harp is a damn hard instrument to write for effectively.) Thank you, Vince!

    There’s no better host than Jerry Junkin at UT. A brilliant musician, a fun person, and a good friend, and he has these amazing musicians at his disposal — both students and faculty (like Tom) — so it’s no exaggeration when I say that he was a big reason why I moved to Austin and lived there for three years. It was a perfect trip back.

    There is just one more thing to cover: A jaw-dropping and mouth-watering dinner at Barley Swine. That’ll be the next post…

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