Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Facelift, or Plastic Surgery? :)
One of this year's (2010-2011) creative project, during my Guggenheim Fellowship year, I decided that I would rework on my 1999 Violin Concerto and try to get it recorded. It was commissioned by Guanajuato Orchestra in Mexico with grant from Jerome Foundation. It was absolutely the first orchestra piece I have ever written, and with no real experience and with no guidances. I did take a lot more harmony and orchestration courses than "normal" violinists at Toho School but still I am very largely self-taught when it comes to composition; my only composition "teacher", although that is not even too official--I wasn't enrolled in the "composition" department--was Mario Davidovsky when I enrolled in Juilliard-Columbia Univ. exchange program and took private lessons with him for a few years.
I decided to "upgrade" or rework on my old concerto instead of writing a new one. I much prefer to write a brand new one (and I would like to actually); it would be a lot easier than to rewrite. The main reason being that this 1999 work is the first Violin Concerto in history that used Subharmonics, pitches below open G, introducing those low notes in the violin repertoire. An excerpt from the Cadenza was printed in an article on Subharmonics I wrote on STRINGS magazine in 2001 (August/Sept issue). The picture above is a measure from the Cadenza. So it is already documented somewhat, but I feel I need to cast it in stone for the historical value.
The orchestra part is at times almost embarrassingly simple; when I got the commission I talked to Robert Dick, a virtuoso and revolutionary flutist who single handedly changed modern flute's capacities, and who also wrote his own concerto. Since Robert and I are friends (and in fact we have a duo improvisation CD out, called Irrefrageable Dreams) I turned to him for an advice. In his typical quirky and cheerful way, Robert said to me, "Whatever you do, just remember Mari, CHOPIN is the cut off" ! He meant that the orchestra part shouldn't be simpler than Chopin's piano concerto! :)
Unlike so many great contemporary violin concertos written by master composers today, I am curiously not ashamed to say that my intentions for creating a violin concerto as a violinist myself, isn't really in creating a master orchestral piece :) My interest is foremost to showcase and feature the violin, which one could say that it maybe more "shallow" or superficial musically. I personally find modern violin concertos (in general) too "thick" in orchestration that covers over the solo parts too much, but again that is spoken by somewhat egotistical typical violinist point of view :) The modern composition ethics seems to dictate that the solo violin part should be more integrated into the orchestra as a whole. I don't mean to be rebellious, but personally I am not interested in this aesthetics; other more competent people can write more "integrated" master compositions. I write for the solo violin :)
Anyway, even with this self-serving violinist-pleasing concerto writing style, I feel I still would need to improve on my orchestrations and even some structural elements. The orchestra I wrote for was a University orchestra, and I had consciously kept orchestra parts, especially winds and brass, rather simple. The question is, when I start "improving" on the already-written score and parts, would that be a "facelift", pulling and tightening when necessary, or would it involve some major structural changes like a plastic surgery, shaving bones and such!?!? As I'm already working at it, I am afraid that it is the latter.
This is a "Violin Concerto, 1999", but when I finish revising it, I will have to add "revised 2011" and it will have more than a decade in between. I am realizing that it will not be the same piece anymore. Why didn't I do it before? Good question; I guess I would just blame it on having two babies! :):)