Sunday, November 25, 2012

Working on Music

I had an excellent and productive day today. I spent the morning meeting with Roberto Limón, an excellent guitarist--possibly the best in Mexico and certainly the leading performer of new music. He told me that he has had eighty-five pieces written for him: concertos, chamber music and solo works. I just made a contribution myself: obviously he needs more music!

We met because he and soprano Cherie Hughes are going to be premiering six songs from my Songs from the Poets series here in San Miguel de Allende in January as part of the Pro Musica concert series. He wanted to go over some things in the songs that were novel, such as my use of a paper clip attached to a bass string in the song "Listening to a Monk from Shu Playing the Lute" on a poem by Li Po, the famous Tang dynasty poet and drunk. I used the paper-clip effect, which is quite wonderful, to imitate the sound of a distant Chinese bell. There is a trick to it, which I was happy to reveal to Roberto. Other questions about the songs had to do with tempo, where a sudden change in sonority fell and places where Roberto felt he really needed to depart from the way I had organized the slurs and accents. This was in the last-written song, on a poem by John Donne called "Song: Goe and Catch a Falling Starre". The song has a strongly rhythmic vocal line with lots of hemiola and an unrelenting guitar obbligato underneath. Roberto said it reminded him of that ferocious gigue to the 2nd English Suite by Bach, which had never occurred to me. The whole thing just popped into my head in the shower one day. But I realized that he really understood it, so was happy to give him full freedom to work out those slurs and accents as he thought best. People rarely realize that the composer is often not the best interpreter of their music. Listening to Léo Brouwer, normally a spectacular performer, play his own Elogio de la Danza in concert convinced me of that. So I am eager to hear how Roberto is going to work out that obbligato. I do notice one thing: in his copy of the score is about the most meticulous right and left hand fingering I have ever seen. Oh, here is that Bach Gigue:

I used to play that suite quite a lot with a flute-player who apparently had no need to breathe, so some of its DNA must have crept into my song.

I also gave Roberto copies of my two completed suites for guitar and fumbled my way through bits of most of the movements to give him an idea. He was quite taken with the Suite No. 2 and promises to premiere it in the second half of next year. Sounds like a great idea to me! Roberto is that rare musician who loves and understands new music. Of course, my music is very much related to music of the past; so much so that out of the nine movements of the two suites, I only made the claim that two were absolutely original and unique to the guitar: one because it is based on a kind of synthesis of 6th century chant and Chopin's fioratura and the other because it comes out of the experience of wandering around outside at dawn in a Canadian winter when the temperature is around 50º below zero--and I'm pretty sure that hasn't been depicted on guitar before.

I'll try and put together some clips of Roberto so you can hear his playing and, after January, I hope to have some of my songs in the can, performed by him and Cherie Hugues.

Wonderful stuff, music...

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