Austin, part 3 : Showtime

So far, I’ve blogged twice about my recent trip back to Austin. There was the first post, covering the UT-Baylor football game, and then the second post (the second one usually follows the first), covering a delicious dinner at Uchiko. Today’s post covers the concert (in theory, the main reason I was there), and a few odds-n-ends.

So… I was on campus for a performance of my new(ish) percussion concerto, Drum Music, co-commissioned by UT. The piece premiered a year ago, and I revised it pretty heavily after that premiere. This was my first time working with the piece since those revisions, and it appears that I’m not quite done tweaking. One seemingly small – but aurally significant – change that Tom Burritt (UT’s percussion professor) and I changed this time was the highest drum in the last movement. I’ve always wanted a sound with a strong “pop,” but had been reluctant to use a snare drum, thinking it would be cliche. It turns out, though, that a snare drum really is the best sound, and it offers the most dramatic contrast with the other five tom-toms. We didn’t use a normal snare, but Tom instead selected a 13″ piccolo snare. He’d been using that as the highest tom anyway, so it was ready to go; we just decided that the snares needed to be turned on. It was a great sound.

There are still some orchestration problems with the last movement. Friend-of-the-blog (and incredibly prolific blogger himself — with no fewer than FOUR blogs – count them! – one! – two! – three! – four!) David Rakowski listened to the webcast of UT’s second performance of the piece, and he thinks the problem is that the counterpoint that’s audible in the MIDI gets buried in actual performance. I think he’s right, so I’ll probably make one more pass at the orchestration before Tom Burritt and Jerry Junkin next perform the piece with the Dallas Wind Symphony next spring. I don’t write a lot of counterpoint, and that last movement is one of the exceptions, so it’s a shame that what counterpoint is there isn’t audible.

The performance with Tom and the UT Wind Ensemble – conducted by Jerry Junkin – was excellent. As soon as I have a recording of their performance, I’ll post it. It really is about time I post a full recording of the piece. (This photo was taken by Liz Love. Thanks, Liz Love!)

Tom has already performed the piece twice – and he’s doing it again with the Dallas Wind Symphony in the spring. He’s a monster player. I can’t wait to hear what he does with it next time around. I think I’ll finally have the piece figured out by then.

The Austin trip was loaded with good times. There was the evening at my favorite restaurant in Austin, Fonda San Miguel, where there were excellent margaritas (and Steve Davis’s head)…

… delicious enchiladas, and the best tres leches cake in the world.

The day after the concert, I spoke with the UT composition students and presented my Soprano Sax Concerto (and the new recording by Tim McAllister).  I love participating in composer forums when I visit a college campus, but it doesn’t always happen.  Not surprisingly, it’s not unusual that the schedule just doesn’t work out for me to speak with the composers.  (My visit is timed to coincide with a dress rehearsal and a concert, not necessarily to coincide with a comp forum.)  Sometimes, the band program and the comp program don’t have the relationship that – in my opinion – they should.  Other times, things in the comp program are just not so… welcoming. (During my otherwise wonderful visit to UM-Duluth last year, I asked to speak with the comp students about establishing an income-earning career as a composer. My request: actively denied.  Srsly?)  The department at UT, I’m happy to say, has always been very welcoming.  This was my third time speaking with them over the years, and I always find that the students are engaged and have great questions. (Sadly, my comp forum didn’t generate rave reviews like David Rakowski recently received at Ithaca.)

My most recent piece is “The Frozen Cathedral,” which will premiere in just a few weeks. As I was finishing the piece, I sent the harp part (which is extensive) to my friend Vince Pierce, a harp student at UT, asking if he would go through it with me. Vince was generous enough to work with me for an hour while I was on campus. With his help, I made a lot of improvements to the harp part, making it more idiomatic and making it sound better. (I should probably write a full blog post about the changes he suggested. Harp is a damn hard instrument to write for effectively.) Thank you, Vince!

There’s no better host than Jerry Junkin at UT. A brilliant musician, a fun person, and a good friend, and he has these amazing musicians at his disposal — both students and faculty (like Tom) — so it’s no exaggeration when I say that he was a big reason why I moved to Austin and lived there for three years. It was a perfect trip back.

There is just one more thing to cover: A jaw-dropping and mouth-watering dinner at Barley Swine. That’ll be the next post…


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