20.1.05

RECOMPENSE. Last fall, the International Railway History conference in Semmering coincided with a Brahms-Dvorak festival in Mürzzuschlag. I passed on the last concerts of the festival in order to hang out with some conference participants atop the Hirschenkogel. Wednesday night, the Vermeer Quartet made up for what I missed, performing Dvorak's Op. 80 in E (1876), a new work to my ears, which doesn't take on that Dvorak flavor until the fourth movement, which a Czech colleague who was at the concert tells me is based on a Czech folktune; and concluding with Brahms's Op. 51 no. 2 in a (1873), one that I might have heard before that's also quite good.

The performance also featured Joan Tower's Incandescent, a case study in the follies of writing music for academic tenure. As a piece of pure music it is just fine, not the usual assault on the ears one expects of a distinguished professor at Bard College. But the good professor had to provide program notes.
What I try to do in my music, and particularly in this piece, is to create a heat from within, so that what unfolds is not only motivated by the architecture of this piece (which I consider the most important goal), but also that each idea or phrase contains a strong "radiance" of texture and feeling about it. In other words, the complete "action" of rhythm, texture, dynamic, harmony, and register has a strong enough profile that it creates an identity with a "temperature," one felt rather than observed.
One observes a temperature on a thermometer. One feels it on one's face. All snarking aside, it's a fine work, which received its Chicago premiere in November of last year. Perhaps, to refer to an interview with the composer, composers don't get much respect because they're trying too hard to be arch. Never mind disclosing your intentions, just write.

Northern Illinois University readers new to this site might wonder, what's my message? Here's my message. A quartet that can perform Chicago premieres of good contemporary music, an accounting program that is widely recognized, and rising enrollment are all worth noting and hailing. When the administration, or constituencies within the university, perpetuate the counterproductive fads of the past thirty years, that hampers the university's ability to achieve up to its potential. My purpose is to call counterproductive fads counterproductive, something I've been doing for years.

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