Damien Rocks Binghamton

I’m exhausted. 6 performances in 10 days in three different cities. I’m not complaining; it’s been amazing to feel like a “real composer,” and I feel incredibly fortunate. But wow — it gets tiring.

AEJ and I drove up to Binghamton on Saturday afternoon, arriving just in time (after a leisurely lunch at Pizza Hut) for the pre-concert talk. I spoke a little about the piece, and took questions from the audience.

The goal with these things, in my opinion, is not to lecture the audience about what they’re going to hear. The goal is just to show the audience that I, personally, am not scary. If I can convince them that I’m not a bad guy, then they go into the performance giving me the benefit of the doubt. I want them to think, “well, he’s a nice guy, so how bad could his music be?” If they start listening with that attitude, then the performance is typically well-received. So, when I speak to the audience, I usually just focus on sounding positive, and joke about being a living composer. (I don’t recommend starting with a political joke, however. I once considered a joke about Iraq in front of an extremely conservative audience. Take my advice: don’t do it.)

Pre-concert chat out of the way, AEJ and I took our seats for the concert. After works by Ives & Jennifer Higdon (separate pieces, not collaborations, by the way), Jose-Luis Novo, the conductor, introduced me, and I took the stage to say a few words, this time for the entire audience. (Pre-concert chats are generally fairly sparcely attended, whereas there were about 1200 people in the hall for the concert.) I made a few more jokes, briefly told the story of how I came to write the Percussion Concerto, raved about the soloist, Damien Bassman, and quickly took my seat before I made a complete fool of myself. (I don’t know what I said, but it seemed to go well, as an elderly woman offered to adopt me at the post-concert reception.)

I didn’t know what to expect of the performance, because for the first time in one of my orchestra performances, I was only there for the performance, and hadn’t heard a single rehearsal. (I had just returned from Florida State the day before.)

Needless to say, Damien played the hell out of the piece. He needs to play the piece more often, because — man — he’s just the best there is. I was worried about the audience reaction. This was an especially elderly crowd — and that’s saying something for an orchestra concert — and I expected people to cover their ears to protect them from the massive amount of sound coming from the stage. (Percussion concerti are, um, loud.) But to my surprise — and relief — not two seconds after the last beat, the audience started screaming their appreciation to Damien, and he got a full-blown standing ovation. (I’ll also note that his performance was the only time that the audience gave a standing-O that night. Go, Damien!)

It was a great concert. Jose-Luis was a pleasure to work with, and I hope he’ll do the piece again sometime. What a nice and talented guy.

The next morning, AEJ and I stopped off at IHOP for a tasty (and sweet) breakfast, then drove back to NYC, stopping at a few exits to admire the beautiful countryside. I wish I were wealthy, as I’d love to buy a place out there…

The next performance: Wednesday at Alice Tully Hall, when the Juilliard Percussion Ensemble will perform “Mass,” this time without dance. Should be fun!


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