Week 16: On the River Don, a new commission, and a world premiere.

          Yet another wonderful week here in Aberdeen! The weather is clearing up substantially and the sky is getting much lighter, with daylight lasting far longer than it would back in the United States at this time. I find that these generous quantities of sunlight have impacted my mood and productivity in a massive way. In this week alone I have started and nearly finished the new commission for the Pennsbury High School Concert Choir under the direction of James D. Moyer. This setting of Salvator mundi will be performed as a part of the choir's tour to Europe in 2015, a very exciting opportunity for me as a composer!

Salvator Mundi,  Leonardo Da Vinci

Salvator Mundi, Leonardo Da Vinci

          As with the other works that I have produced so far during the course of my PhD, Salvator mundi is a step in quite a different direction in comparison to the music I composed during my undergraduate degree at Westminster Choir College. In particular, the level of dynamic intensity has been greatly reduced to a fraction of the volume that I am used to working with. My goal was to construct the piece in such a way that the dynamic level never increased beyond mezzo piano. I certainly achieved this, as about ninety percent of the piece is at the level of piano or quieter, which I think (or rather I hope) will have the effect of drawing the audience into the sound of the choir and the meaning of the text. In addition to this there is also zero divisi in the four voice parts of the choir, a tactic which I am slightly ashamed to admit that I have never once used in my choral writing. Compared to other settings of this famous text, mine is very somber, introspective, and subdued, even though the harmonic language will certainly be a challenge for a high school choir, albeit a very successful one. And yet, despite the rather strict framework that I constructed around my compositional process for this piece, I can still feel a great deal of myself coming through in the music, and this fact makes me very pleased with the work I have done.

          When I sit down to compose these days I feel very different from how I did even five months ago. It might sound strange to someone not used to creative processes that my composing sessions have become borderline obsessive. I find myself wrapped in a happy daze for hours at a time as I work. Actually, “work” hardly describes what I do to be honest, because the connotations of this word in my mind are generally negative, and I love every single minute that I get to spend composing. That being said, I know that I am technically working as I am paid to do it, but I genuinely wish that every person could find a paid profession that makes them as happy as my involvement in music makes me. Given the reputation of my field for being one that is difficult to make much money in, I know that I will probably never be a very wealthy person, but in my mind the benefits of doing exactly what I love to do on a daily basis far outstrip the benefits of having a bloated bill-fold.

Scenes from the River Don

Scenes from the River Don

          There has been time in between the hours spent composing to experience some great things with some great people this week. On Monday we celebrated the 30th birthday of my dear Italian friend Fabrizio Cultrera with a massive sea food dinner and a fine selection of wine. It was a truly fabulous evening, although the porters had to come shut us down several times when we lapsed into singing Italian opera at the top of our voices. In the wee hours of Tuesday morning we wound our way down to the bank of the River Don so as not to keep disturbing the other tenants in our building (a million apologies to all of you for our shenanigans!), and being from Michigan I led the charge into the freezing water. I'll never forget Fabrizio shouting to those left on shore as he and I stood in the Don: “Take a picture! Italy and U.S.! PIZZA CONNECTION!” The cuts on my feet from the rocky riverbed were totally worth it.

          On Wednesday I went to see the Elphinstone Chamber Orchestra perform a selection of works including the UK premiere of Bohuslav Martinů's Concertino for Left-hand Piano at St. Machar's Cathedral. Thomas Le Brocq and Cole Bendall led the orchestra very effectively from the podium, and piano soloist Paul Murray, whose personal story is absolutely incredible, was stunning in his interpretation of this difficult work for one hand. The orchestra, although slightly shaky at times given the level of difficulty of the repertoire, really seemed to enjoy what they were doing, which to me ultimately means a great deal more than perfect technical execution. First violinist Aden Mazur was simply outstanding and a star performer in his own right. The orchestra also performed the world premiere of Variations on a theme of Beethoven by Peter Davis, an up and coming first year composer at the University of Aberdeen. While the orchestration was a little cloudy at times and the composition a little stylistically confused, there is no denying the incredible potential and solid musical ideas of this gifted young composer. He will be a person to watch out for in the years to come, mark my words.

MSHS Redmen Chorale

MSHS Redmen Chorale

          Tuesday night was a very special occasion for me as the Marquette Senior High School Redmen Chorale, under the direction of my good friend and original mentor Jan Brodersen, gave the world premiere of my new choral work, In My Silence. I am so sad that I could not be at the concert in America, but after listening to the Elphinstone Chamber Orchestra it was a welcome surprise to see a video of the premiere on Wednesday night. These young men and women mean so much to me; they were the one unshakeable constant in my life during the preparation for the world premiere of A Child's Requiem in December, and I will never forget the service that they have rendered to my music. I miss working with them so much; such incredible passion for such young people. Thank you, all of you, for being who you are and for allowing me to compose music for you.

          And now, after a lovely evening spent at an outdoor screening of The Triplets of Belleville with the French, I find myself at the end of another wonderful week in Scotland. The weeks really are flying by. Tomorrow it will be two months until I return to Marquette for Hiawatha... Life is good!

Until next time,

Thomas LaVoy


Culture shock of the week: so cars drive on the left here right? Turns out people pass each other on the pavement (sidewalk for Americans) on the left as well. My apologies to the city of Aberdeen for constantly walking straight into its inhabitants on a daily basis...

Music of the week: the world premiere of In My Silence. 

Thomas LaVoyComment