03 February 2009

An Award and a Recollection

Last night, I received word that Haziri was awarded honorable mention in the Millennium Chamber Players of Chicago’s annual Composition Competition. Out of over 300 scores received Haziri was one of less than ten that received mention. It came as a nice surprise at the end of a long day and after a meal of not-so-good Mexican food at Mama Mexico on Broadway – a restaurant I had avoided for nine years for philosophical reasons, but that’s another story. The jury for the prize was Bernard Rands, Augusta Read Thomas, Kyung Mee Choi and George Flynn. It’s particularly heartening because as far as I know none of these composers know my work. One of the other honorable mentions was the composer and flautist Ned McGowan.

Seeing the jury and Ned’s name I was reminded of the wonderful summer I spent at the Aspen Music Festival in 1998 when I was a part of the Advanced Composition Master Class led at the time by Rands and John Harbison. It was one of the last, if not last times this seminar ran concurrently with the normal composition program at Aspen and there were tensions between the two groups.

When I drove cross-country, my car stuffed with belongings for the summer – I overpacked - I had just finished my undergraduate work and wasn’t quite sure what to do next. For the program we were asked to write a work for the Aspen Contemporary Ensemble – my contribution was the Septet - and I was floored by the virtuosity of the ensemble: I still remain in touch with some of those players, Michael Norsworthy who played clarinet for instance or Blair McMillan who was the pianist. The composer and percussionist Nathan Davis played marimba. My cohort in the seminar were equally brilliant and have all gone on in their careers: Ken Ueno, Keeril Makan, Suzanne Sorkin, Ben Sutherland, and a composer from the Midwest named Colin Anderson. We spent a few weeks discussing music, listening to music and having an all-around good time. John Adams visited and discussed his use of computer software to tweak Slonimsky scales in his new piece Slonimsky’s Earbox, Augusta Read Thomas gave a presentation about a new piece she had done for a Chicago fish exhibit. David Zinman gave a masterclass at which I played a midi realization of my then-unheard and now-never-really-played orchestra piece Ma Fin. I'll never forget Bernard Rands comment on hearing the very poorly realized midi on cassette. "Never play that for anyone again." The midi did no justice to what is actually a very beautiful piece. Zinman didn’t like that the horns played so high at the beginning. I was young, I didn’t know any better – at the reading later in the summer, Jeri Johnson conducted beautifully – I remember our meeting beforehand to discuss how to approach the mood of the piece.
At the end of the session we had a big party at Rands’ Aspen apartment. We all ate and drank a lot of beer and whiskey – surely there are pictures out there – and at a certain point John Harbison brought an enormous smoked salmon.

This appears to be my 100th blog post, what a happy coincidence.