So, after a lot of missing each other over the Christmas, I managed to finally find Cora’s place and begin a series of deep philosophic discussions and music listening sessions that really gave the whole concept of The Hope Concerto some direction. I think we discovered why most people often think artists are a strange bunch, spending too much time thinking about things that don’t involve good old fashion hard work or the realities of life that include income, bills and retirement. I reckon if anyone was eavesdropping they would not only think we were strange, but also reckon we are ready for the loony bin.
We managed to touch on all subjects, from violin tone, to bow resonance, to Las Vegas shows, to actual music!
We were trying to compare them as cars with engines, and I hope Cora remembers it better than I do! I’m going to have to blog sooner after these meetings in future. What I’m paying attention to in my listening is the different orchestrations in the 4 concertos and the different rate of evolution of the tempos, melodies and movements individually and as a whole. The concertos are a selection that we felt grabbed a lot of what Cora likes in a concerto and there was enough in there to give me a crash course in her likes and dislikes.
Today, I’ve spent a lot of the day, actually… the whole day since I got up, listening to Beethoven and Shostakovich back to back, again and again…. its really interesting observing the evolution of the pieces and where the composer takes the melody and ideas.
For me as a composer, I love to study what others have been doing. A moment like this, writing a violin concerto, is for me, an opportunity to pull out some of the greatest concertos and finally dedicate some time to truly analyzing them and getting inside them. To understand a work like this from the minds-eye of the composer actually requires a lot of concentration and listening. I love that moment though, when its as if a light bulb goes off and I finally feel like I understood their thinking at the moment of writing the piece. I want to try and understand why each note was significant to them and what they discovered on the journey to the completion of the piece.
When I sit to write then, I enjoy soaking in this knowledge that has been awakened in me, and putting pen to paper, feeling that I am suitably informed to give the best I can of myself in the writing process. For the last few years, I’ve honestly started to feel I don’t really write music, but rather interpret and dictate down something that is out there in the ether. Before I might have said, that I ‘came up with’ and idea, but really did I? I heard something in my head, and have no idea how it got there. It feels like I concentrate and concentrate until I tune into what I am chasing….and when I catch up with it, I simply write it down.
Then what? Mixing the sounds I am catching in my head, with the experiential knowledge that I have developed by repeating my writing process over and over again, and via awakening new knowledge in myself via absorbing myself in the thought processes of past masters, I slowly but surely start to sculpt a new piece of music from nothing, and to me that is the magical experience that lures me back time and time again.
At the moment, I’m at the absorption stage of the process, although Cora and I have already made some wonderful musical discoveries. I had a melody that I wrote for a film demo a few years ago, and from the minute I wrote it, I felt it was always intended for a concerto and not a film. I had played it on clarinet when I first wrote it, and thought I might just turn it into a clarinet concerto one day. As time passed I wondered what it might sound like on violin or even cello, and eventually I forgot about it. (I feel like I am telling a Lord Of The Rings story here!)
When Cora came calling about a violin concerto, I had completely forgotten about this, and it was when we sat down over tea and music at her place that I hesitantly asked if she would mind trying to play this melody on violin so that I could here it and see if it fit. We actually did that (and videoed the moment) and were both surprised at how well it sounded. We tried it in the key of D on her instrument to see what it sounded like and it was gorgeous. The instrument resonates much more on D and its harmonics, but I still like that melody in it’s original pitch, so I’ll have to live with it for a while and try it in a few keys on violin to see what we eventually choose.
So…. with goosebumps covering both of our arms, we honestly felt we had something here…. the melody takes a full 30 seconds to evolve, and its long and evocative and is glorious on violin.
We also explored my other idea of placing the violin over an orchestra playing in a Gregorian chant style. We used some tracks I had gotten from my good friend Gerry Straub who is somewhat of an expert in Gregorian chant. He has the most ridiculous collection of Gregorian Chant that you could imagine and was kind enough to loan me some of his collection when he heard about my concept.
Using tracks by Paul Hillier and chants from the Benedictine Monks Of Santo Domingo De Silos, we tested out if it might be possible to bring to fruition my vision of violin over this style playing on an orchestra. I guess its partially inspired by Arvo Pärt as well. Our tests suggested it was possible so I was very encouraged to say the least.
When I got a little concerned about having two slow movements, Cora asked was there anything against doing 4 movements and I laughed and said it was kind of the solution my mind was already going after so we actually have a plan coming together!