Tuesday, March 22, 2011

In the Shape of a Pear

Deer Tracks Suite No. 1
1. January 22, 2011 (mp3)(pdf)
2. December 26, 2008 (mp3)(pdf)
3. February 2009 (mp3)(pdf)
4. August 31, 2009 (mp3)(pdf)

Last Wednesday, March 16, I was honored to be a contributor to the Music in the Shape of a Pear concert, titled "Etudes", presented in the Noble Recital Hall at Luther College. For the occasion I combined four of my short Deer Tracks pieces into Deer Tracks Suite No. 1 and played them on my old Gibson A model mandolin. I also performed my piece The Autumn After, dedicated to Alison Stephens, on octave mandolin as a distant, belated contribution to the memorial concert that had been held in her honor on March 11 in London.

The Deer Tracks recordings presented here are not from the concert itself. In fact two of them have already appeared in earlier entries of this blog. I recorded the other two (nos. 1 & 4) yesterday here at home. I figured I would post them all together so you could get an idea of what they sound like as a Suite. When I get a chance to hear the concert recordings I may post them as well although my recollection of my performance tells me that there are some mistakes that I might not want to share on the web.

The concert itself was a wonderfully varied program of fun and interesting music thanks to the vision and hard work of Luther College's composition professor Brooke Joyce. It began with a Polyrhythmic Etude for carillon by Wim Franken, performed by Dr. Joyce on celeste. A short electronic piece by Pierre Schaeffer, Etude aux Chemins de Fer, followed. My section came next and then we heard Brooke's own piece Prairie Etudes for electronics and English horn, accompanied by projected images. Luther professor Heather Armstrong played the horn part beautifully. I had the good fortune to hear the piece twice (once in rehearsal) and I look forward to hearing it again someday.

The featured piece on the concert was Exotic Etudes by Stephen Paulus, written for the uncommon combination of solo viola with a quartet of piano, violin, viola, and cello. Luther professor Spencer Martin led the ensemble of Luther students with his viola and both the piece and the performances were inspirational. I was disappointed to learn after the concert that the piece isn't available on a commercial recording. It features some truly beautiful passages. 

Between each section of the concert a small group of Luther College student singers performed newly composed Canons I-IV composed by Brooke Joyce. These were wonderful short pieces and were sung from locations around the hall while the stage was being reset for the next performance. I hope to hear these performed from the stage at a future concert. In addition, local composer Steve Smith presented his new work graphicScore, an interactive piece of software for computer + computer user in the lobby before and after the concert. Six or seven laptops with headphones were available for concert goers to experiment with this graphical approach to sound creation.

Amateur that I am, I was a little nervous when I learned that Stephen Paulus would actually be at the concert. I'm usually very comfortable in less formal performance situations but playing my own modest compositions before a major American composer was a little daunting. Not surprisingly Stephen was very friendly and complimentary and I managed to enjoy the whole event a great deal.

In other composer news I should mention that on March 13 I had the pleasure of playing with my friends in the Minnesota Mandolin Orchestra at the winter weekend of the Minnesota Bluegrass & Old-Time Music Association in Plymouth, MN. The MMO premiered the mandolin orchestra arrangement of my Off to Minnesota tune that I created for them and we had a great time. I'm hoping that I'll get a chance to play with them again this summer at one of their outdoor shows.

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