New Music From Upon High

When I came to 5HE, I was a new music specialist. Funny how things change, right? My incredible colleagues beat that out of me, and taught me the benefits and importance of approaching all repertoire with the same conviction and vigor. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t still have a special hankering for new works. There is a certain rush I get when I realize I have the opportunity to champion a new work, bring it to a new audience, and give it a voice.

This week, I’m high, high in the mountains of Utah serving as a guest judge for the prestigious Barlow commissioning prize. At the time of writing, we still haven’t picked a winner, so no spoilers here. But the process of score study, discussion, and exploration is giving me a thrill I’ve been craving for weeks.

Let me be clear. All competitions in music are subjective. There is simply no possible way to identify one composer as worthy of a commission over all others. There are many, many candidates who deserve this prize, but we have to pick one.

On our first day of judging, I was essentially locked in a room with another judge (a great composer himself) to make it through 42 applications for a total of 84 works. I’m proud to say that I listened to all of them. Not every moment of every piece, but something from each submitted score. While we only had a few hours to narrow it down to a measly 3 semi-finalists from our batch (there were many other rooms), it was incredible to see the work of composers all over the world.

As a pianist who shouldn’t compose, I’m always in awe of those who can pull music out of thin air. Great composers know what they want to hear, and figure out ways to express it on paper, communicating their ideas to others. I saw innovative notation, humorous quotations, and extraordinary craft in the creation of timbre and gesture.

And then I looked outside. I stared out at the mountains, which were at that moment, getting drenched in a thunderstorm, and I thought about the ways in which each of us make sense of the world. We have little control over so many things in life, but spend our days pouring over the tiniest minutiae in our sounds, articulation, stage presence, etc. The juxtaposition of grandiose landscape and powerful weather with crate upon crate of creative output from the world’s most promising composers was quite a lot for me to wrap my head around.

As I leave here tomorrow, I hope to bring that balance between large and small back to my work. To respect and enjoy those things over which I have no control, but strive for excellence in even the tiniest of moments in my playing and programming.

Side bonus: this resort is littered with marmots. I've never actually seen one in real life. Super cute!

This weekly inspiration post was brought to you by Adam Marks, Fifth House Ensemble's Pianist and Director of Artistic Programming.  Check back at the end of next week to hear how another ensemble member is inspired! Fifth House Ensemble