It is almost impossible for me to discuss my own music without making reference to a person or piece of art that was central to my music’s creation. Dedication, citation, attribution, these are all attitudes that punctuate my creative process with gratitude for the sources of my output. These pieces are not simply footnotes on the artwork, people, and experiences that have meant so much to me. The music, however, would not have been written without them. The Fantasy is an early work that has nevertheless been one of my most frequently performed, championed by friends in the years since its premiere. The brilliant violist and composer Christopher Lowry, whom I met during my time at Vanderbilt University, included the Fantasy in his doctoral dissertation “The Viola in the 21st Century.” The Fantasy’s name adequately expresses its formal freedom: an exploration of different moods, colors, meters, and tempi. New material follows new material, woven together by a central thematic thread that maintains the continuity of a changing dream.
Another Vanderbilt colleague catalyzed the “Morceaux des Noces.” This work began as simply one “Morceau,” the first movement a commission from the flutist Sarah Wood for her wedding in June 2013. I subsequently expanded the piece into three movements, dedicating the second movement to my parents in honor of their marriage that has lasted over a quarter century. The third movement’s dedication is “For the Marriage of Faustus and Helen,” the title of an ecstatic poem by Hart Crane. Crane was a favorite poet of Matthew McDonald, one of the most important people and artistic influences I met at Vanderbilt University. The three movement quartet was premiered by members of the Price Hill String Quartet in Cincinnati, OH at a benefit concert, with proceeds going to the organization Freedom to Marry Ohio, a marriage equality advocacy group.
Dr. Michael Alec Rose introduced me to Fernando de Szyszlo’s paintings, beginning a longstanding creative relationship with the esteemed Peruvian painter’s dark, symbolic work. I have composed four pieces to date inspired by de Szyszlo’s work, leading to a lasting correspondence and friendship with the artist. In the winter of 2016 I went down to Lima to visit the Szyszlo family, accepting their generous offer of hospitality. Over four days I met four generations of Szyszlos, spending a substantial amount of time with each of the members of the family. The movements of the Sonata “Los Dedicatorias” each take as their musical material a transformation of the names of members of the Szyszlo family. The final movement melodizes the names of two people I met serendipitously through travel circumstances, with whom I had the pleasure to spend my final day exploring Lima. In a sense, each movement reflects the character and some qualities of the people whose names I used: the seriousness of Fernando’s artwork, Vicente’s energetic nature and Fernanda’s grace, the beautiful love of Manuela for her daughter Noella and the lightning-fast banter between Adam, Cristina, and myself. In another sense, all of the movements are dedicated to all of the people I met. I hope they appreciate the gift of this piece as I value the gift of their friendship.
Another cross-continental journey led to the Variations: an exchange program with the Royal Academy of Music that was Michael Rose’s brainchild. While not a pastiche, the Variations juxtapose starkly different styles of the 20th century: from Shostakovich to Feldman to Lutosławski’s aleatoric techniques, and others. The work’s virtuosic violin cadenza variation was inspired by the leader of our exchange program, the new music champion Peter Sheppard-Skærved.
I had brushed shoulders with Shostakovich the year before when I had performed his Sonata with my friend, the violist Emma Dansak. I drew upon the Russian composer’s emotional geography of cattiness and sarcasm as well as tragedy and pensive calm in conceiving the Sonata for Violoncello and Piano. A work that was composed as part of an interdepartmental collaboration at the Peabody Institute, I wrote the Sonata so that it could be performed either with bassoon or violoncello and piano in the hopes of expanding the scope of emotions that I felt were rare in the bassoon repertoire. Work on this piece brought back not only the difficult territory of the Shostakovich Sonata itself, but some of my own terror at the time as I grappled with a piece on the edge of my proficiency as a performer. Like the Fantasy, this piece has traveled far, with performances in Valencia, Spain, Monroe, Louisiana, and Baltimore, Maryland. My deepest thanks go to Sarah, Marika, Yang, Michael, Joshua, Andrew, and, especially, Lavena. -Peter Dayton
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