Plans for the Glass House Concerto continue to develop, becoming more exciting with each new flurry of emails between Hartford, Ames and other points on the globe, and even though I’m trying to wrap up the semester here at the Hartt School, I’m also getting the undeniable itch to compose. I spent part of yesterday sketching out some ideas for a new piece for violin and piano (for Alyssa Saint, a friend in Phoenix), and beginning to stare into the gaping maw that is the Glass House Concerto in its current form. Still, I’m heartened by a bit of lovely writing from Matthew Coley, part of the publicity materials we’re using to drum up the consortium that will support the work:
[the connection with]…Philip Johnson’s Glass House and the coincidence of the events has made the project even more awesomely real, serendipitous, and pertinent to my artistic beliefs.
The elemental main forces of this concerto will be the uniqueness of timbres presented by the soloist from the glass xylophone, stone xylophone, wood and metal percussion consorts, and other glass instruments added. Assisting these elements will be an incendiary combination of the connection to the architectural, design, and aesthetics of the Glass House, Andrew’s compositional energy, my passion for the odder things we can make ‘percussion’, and the drive of a wind ensemble sound.
At this point in the process, there are often false starts. I find myself composing a little, then wheeling across my studio to check Facebook. I’ve blogged before about the intimidation associated with staring down a blank sheet of staff paper, and though I doubt it will ever become easier to overcome, I can at least tell myself that once I get something on the page, I’m at least on the right track. I’ve also decided that if I hit a wall while composing, I will post something here about my progress or lack thereof. Think of it as painful one-man talk therapy lived out in the public arena of the blogosphere. Happy reading!
Still, today was not a complete wash. I’ve spent some time thinking about form and source materials, what we in academia often refer to as “precompositional materials” (we love terms like that). I’m also thinking about the extramusical and timbral aspects of the work: glass, metal, wood, possibly water. Some other concepts that have been floating around the studio have included transparency vs. opacity, texture and density, curves vs. right angles.
I’m playing around with the idea of a seven part form: four large movements interrupted by three “stone wall interludes.” The piece comes gradually into focus, as if glimpsed through a stand of trees, with brilliant flashes of reflected light. I’m not even sure that the soloists’ material is pitched…it may be gestural and a bit improvised. I’ve also begun to ponder the musical representation of glass in terms of key, scale, and so forth. For most musicians, major and minor keys each have a distinct personality: F Major may be pastoral and rustic, while D-flat is lush, warm, comforting. Though such associations vary from musician to musician, I would hazard to guess that for many C Major is the purest or cleanest, owing to its lack of sharps and flats. So I’m operating on the assumption that the beginning of the piece, and possibly a large portion of the work overall, may indeed be in some C-centered world. The idea of ringing glass and metal has also conjured up visions of the overtone series and its potentials, so I’m also toying with other basic pitch materials derived from the harmonic series of C: which gives me easy access to F-sharp and B-flat (and by extension the whole tone scale).