Q: What made you decide to compose?
A: I had been composing casually since I was about 8 years old, spurred by my mother, a fine pianist and teacher, and my oboe teacher Dominique deLerma. I found myself writing more and more as an undergraduate at Yale, and in my junior year called a spade a spade and became a music major, which entitled me to lessons with my hero, the late Mel Powell, himself a Pulitzer Prize winner, who spent the last years of his distinguished career at CalArts.
Q: Do you have a particular method of composition? What inspires you?
A: Re method: It’s all over the map, but most often I take off with the musical personality of the intended performer(s) very much in mind. An example would be WHEN CROWS GATHER, written for Dinosaur Annex Music Ensemble. A striking quality of this group is that on its roster are THREE clarinetists. This became a temptation to write a piece featuring this special sound (coupled with a trio of violin, cello and piano). The idea of crows came from a vision of a great throng perched in the trees outside my studio one early winter. That in turn gave visions of various winter ideas. The piece has a subtitle, “Nine Vignettes of Winter.” What inspires me? Again, all over the map, but nature, or principles of nature – the forks in a river delta, the Fibonacci-based proportions of an evergreen, the “separate-but-wholeness” of a lichen – are often a formative goad.
Q: Do you use technology when you are composing? How?
A: Yes, a computer with a notation program (Finale). No computer-generated sounds, for now. I worked a lot with old analog synthesizers in the 60′s and 70′s.
Q: What composition(s) are you most proud of? Why?
A: LIFE IS A DREAM, of course. It’s the biggest and most comprehensive, and I identify enormously with the hero, Segismundo, an exile. CROWS, mentioned above – it’s a little encyclopedia of human emotions and reactions and it’s very funny. TOCCAPSODY, a real barn-burner of a piano piece answering to the virtuoso and virtuoso-monger in me. SOJOURNER, a glimpse of my fascination with space and with music which constantly has double meanings to it. IN MEMORIAM, my most political piece (5 vocal soloists, double chorus, large orchestra, 45 minutes), about the Columbian conquest, from the point of view of the conquered. It uses Mayan texts and poetry by Neruda and Vallejo. It’s full of rage, but also reconciliation and a dream of peace and justice. APOLLO AND DAPHNE VARIATIONS for large orchestra: it’s wonderfully danceable and dramtically gripping, I think. FLANGE for large chamber ensemble teasingly crosses the line between highly intricate notated music and improvisation. I’ll stop now, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like most of the others.
Q: How did “Life is a Dream” come into being?
A: LIFE IS A DREAM was commissioned by the New Haven Opera Theatre in 1975, but never performed because the company ceased operations at a point where the third act was nearly complete. The Director, Herta Glaz, suggested the Calderón, which instantly captured me. It was an opera waiting to be written.