Yesterday was a whirlwind of activity for me–almost all due to the first concert of the year presented by the Random Access Music composers’ collective (RAM). The concert included my newest work, Indirect Lines to Another and the Next, and five other world premieres by the RAM composers (David Fetherolf, Stefan Weisman, Manly Romero, Erin Rogers, and Jonathan Pieslak). I met with the three performers of my work (Emily Brausa, Christine Perea, and Gordon Beeferman) at 5 pm to add a little more rehearsal time to the work and to hear the work in the performance space itself.
Unfortunately, the piece had not been rehearsed for an entire week, and we spent most of our allotted rehearsal time just putting the pieces of the puzzle back together. By the time the trio had run through the work twice, we only had about 5-10 minutes to do the necessary polishing that I still felt we needed to do–and that was just not enough time. Instead of talking about technical matters, I decided to ask the players to try to be comfortable making music out of the work. “Take your time. Shape the lines. Don’t be afraid to use rubato at certain times. Make this set of measures into an ever-expanding phrase…” I didn’t feel confident that asking for precise articulations or specific interpretations would yield results as good as my more general musical comments might. So, I crossed my fingers, thanked the players, and hoped for the best at 8pm!
The premiere of your work is a funny thing for most composers. The moment is clouded with anticipation, insecurity, anxiety, hope, fear, boredom, and a dozen other feelings mushed up together. For me, the over-riding sensation is one of feeling out of control. This score that you’ve spent hours, days, or even weeks on is out of your hands. You’ve entrusted its realization to other human beings who have their own moment to deal with in front of an audience. And their moment is also clouded with anticipation, insecurity, anxiety, hope, and fear, too. But, at least their fate is bound by their own hands! As the players bring your music to life, they cement this performance in your mind. For good–and for ill(!)–this performance will be what you measure every other performance of the work against. The mistakes that they make this night will the be mistakes that you try to head off first the next time the work is played by another ensemble. The things that this premiering ensemble does well are the things that you will always try to get other ensembles to repeat. And the personal and individual interpretations that the original performers brought to the performance–and that you liked or appreciated or were surprised by–will always hold a certain nostalgic sway over your heart.
Last night’s premiere of Indirect Lines…was certainly an example of this feeling that your work will always, in some way, be “owned” by this group of musicians. Christine Perea (Flute) had intermittent trouble with the multiphonics that I’d written for the flute, and, so, I’ll always worry about those things in every future performance–despite the fact that she played beautifully and with great verve and commitment for 99% of the rest of the piece. Emily Brausa (Cello) was particularly sensitive in playing some of the phrases (which I really liked), and she shaped some of my melodies in unexpected ways (which I also liked), so I’m sure that her interpretation(s) will become the standard by which I judge all other performances. And Gordon Beeferman (Piano) played the work with such rhythmic precision, that I’m still trying to figure out how he could be so precise when I’d tried to write some sections to sound rather imprecise! Again, I’m sure that the next time the work is performed I’ll spend much of my time comparing his precision against whatever the next pianist does with the music. Despite the fact that these paragraphs sound a little negative, let me make myself perfectly clear: these three musicians performed wonderfully. They’re all gifted and generous musicians. I’m lucky to have had them give such energy to my work.
I’d like to thank Gordon, Emily, and Christine for their hard work and for their care and commitment to bringing my piece to life. I was very pleased by the performance, and I received good reactions from the audience. I hope that I get to work with each of these musicians again in the very near future. This trio will always be the first and most important creators of this particular work. And I’ll probably always have some feeling that I could have done something more to make the performance better.
Despite a strong performance, I spend most of my time remembering the mistakes and the problems. Premieres are funny that way.