02 September 2008

New beginnings

Dear readers - I'm sorry I haven't written in so long! Life has been especially rich and full for the last few months. My final weeks in Vienna were wonderful, and the last lesson with Chaya found me feeling great about the progress I made during a year of focused study. The path ahead is much clearer than it was before; I have a sense of some of the specific areas I'd like to explore in my compositions and more understanding of what defines my unique musical voice.

We had a quick trip through Italy - some of the highlights were the art in Florence (including Leonardo's Annunciation, Botticelli's Birth of Venus, and Michaelangelo's David, which are all much more powerful in person than I imagined they would be), the countryside in Tuscany, and quite possibly the very best ice cream in the world, in a little gelateria in Florence.

After visiting with friends in Paris and London, we returned to Colorado, spent a month unpacking and repacking hundreds of boxes, loaded up a moving truck and drove across the country to our new home in Bloomington, Indiana. Now Rosalind is looking for work in environmental education/youth gardening and I'm starting a Masters Degree in Composition. I will be studying with P. Q. Phan, a fascinating composer born in Vietnam.

I'm so excited about the opportunities here! IU has one of the country's top conservatories, with an astounding 1600 music majors. I will be much busier now than I was last year, but I'll post here from time to time, to share some highlights from my ongoing journey. Best wishes to you all!

07 June 2008

Croatia, Part II

"Vrt" is the word for "garden" - it's so cool that they can have words without vowels in Croatian. Zagreb's Botanic Gardens made for a lovely stroll among trees and flowers from all over the world. I can't resist sharing this sign:

"Please, don't take the turtles."

Rosalind and I visited an unbelievable national park, Plitvicer Lakes, home to dozens of waterfalls and hundreds of lakes. It was truly stunning, every view more beautiful than the last. There are kilometers of boardwalks set up so visitors can walk directly over the lakes.

Austria is a landlocked country, and Croatia is renowned for its gorgeous coastline, so after a few days in Zagreb, I headed for the seaside. The bus ride featured some beautiful countryside, vineyards, and small plots of farmland with rich red soil. The grass was green, so green, like a little taste of Ireland. My first glimpse of the Adriatic Sea was breathtaking, sparkling clear waters and forested islands hugged by clouds. All of the houses were modest-sized, but there were occasional highrise apartment towers near the sea, built high to maximize the beautiful view.

I arrived in Pula, an ancient city in the northwest of the country. I left the bus station and was awestruck at the sight of the Amphitheatre. This is a 30,000-seat arena that the Romans built two thousand years ago for gladiator battles, lion feedings, and such. Today it's used for more peaceful events, such as rock concerts.

I hadn't done much planning ahead, so I didn't have a room reserved, nor did I know precisely how to get to the town hostel. How many people did I stop to ask for directions? A record: Nine. Everyone was very friendly, and helped as much as they could, although most spoke no English. After about two hours of wandering through various neighborhoods, I finally found the place, and they had beds available - and on top of that, they were located right on a beach! This would be my home base for the next few days, where I would enjoy many hours of this view while talking with other guests, writing in my journal, and composing.

There was a cute litte kitten who lived outside the hostel - the groundskeeper tried to shoo him away, but the guests liked him too much. "Zippers" was his name. He would hang around the tables outside at breakfast, and my roommate secretly fed him tins of canned meat from the buffet table. One afternoon, an old Croatian woman brought him some milk in a little saucer. She and I talked about how cute he was, although we had no language in common. (Sometimes it doesn't even matter.)

In search of a grocery store, I walked through the suburbs near the hostel, some of the most beautiful neighborhoods I've ever seen anywhere. Thoroughly Mediterranean - houses with gleaming white walls and olive vines (here they're on a trellis above the driveway). Many have backyard gardens with red soil, and everyone has a great view of the seaside just down the hill.

James Joyce is one of my favorite writers. He spent a few months in Pula when a doctor prescribed that he vacation by the sea to improve his health. (Wouldn't you love a doctor like that?) I ran into him while I was out walking the streets.

AND NOW…It's been an action-packed six weeks since returning from Croatia. We've had a few visitors in Vienna, traveled to visit a farming/religious community in southern Austria, played a concert, and sampled ice cream from about six different vendors (all amazing…the ice cream here is simply amazing.) I'm in the midst of writing a 15-minute piece for 6 instruments, a big project where I'm putting into practice many of the ideas that I've thought of during the year - my new thoughts on harmony, rhythm, polyphony, instrumental sounds/noises, overall form, and even compositional process (how I think about and carry out the work). It's so exciting to tangibly feel the ways in which I've grown during this year.

I have less than four weeks left in the city, and many things I hope to do before I leave! Check back soon for more pics and stories…

07 May 2008

Croatia, part I

Dear readers - I apologize for the long delay in posting. Quite a lot has happened in the past month! Travel, concerts, lots of good time spent with other music students, exploring more of Vienna, studying music and composing. There's much that I'd like to share, so I'll begin today with:

Croatia is a beautiful country of 4.5 million people along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea (just across the pond from Italy). Rosalind and I had been hoping to get to know more Eastern European countries, so I went for a week and she joined me for the weekend. One of the other student composers here grew up in the capital city of Zagreb, so she was happy to provide me with some insider tips about where to go and what to see.

In its turbulent history, Croatia has been claimed by all the major empires in this region. Since 1995, it has been an independent democratic country. Zagreb is a city of quaint old buildings densely packed into irregular rows, balanced by the open spaces of parks and piazzas. There are open-air markets, street musicians, modern concert halls, and museums of Viennese grandeur. Like many other European capitals, the center of the city is over 500 years old, while the surrounding neighborhoods are progressively newer - and the tramlines connect everything quite efficiently.

Croatians call their country Hrvatska. One interesting bit of trivia is that the necktie was invented in Croatia, in the early 1600s. Before that time, there were no neckties in the world - and today, millions of men all over the world put on a necktie five days a week. In fact, the thought of being a working man and not wearing a necktie is absolutely unthinkable in many professions. The original word for this garment was "hravat", just like the name of the country; this became "cravat" in French and is now "kravata" in Croatian.

In Vienna, I really haven't felt like a tourist - I'm renting an apartment, I work 5-6 days a week, I'm part of a musical community, I speak German as best I can. So my week in Croatia was truly a vacation, and I enjoyed doing all the tourist things - eating out, taking lots of pictures, visiting three museums in one day, asking strangers for directions, and taking some much-needed time off.

Croatian is a Slavic language, sharing common roots with Russian and the languages of all Eastern European countries. I have never studied any of these, so most of the words looked and sounded completely foreign to me. However, I enjoyed learning and using some Croatian greetings ("dobro jutro", "dobar dan", "dobra vecer" for "good morning", "good afternoon", and "good evening"). Knowing the words for "left" and "right" proved very useful for the many times I asked for directions. I found it fascinating to compare the four different words for "goodbye" listed in the phrasebook: "do videnja" (like Russian), "adio" (like Spanish), "zbogom" (unique to Croatia), and the omnipresent "ciao" (Italian). In fact, "ciao" is what I hear most often among young people, particularly among international groups.

Now, some of the words did seem very familiar - those which are clearly "loan words" from English, German, French or Italian. For instance, a "stjuardesa" serves you drinks on an "avion"; four musicians make a "kvartet"; and I was very tempted by the dessert offerings at the "cokoladni" shop. I've noted the relatives of the word "pancake": "Palatschinken" in German, "palacsinta" in Hungarian, and "palacinka" in Croatian. (Although all samples that I've tried have tasted more like "crepes"!) What I particularly enjoyed was the cases of rending an English word in the Croatian alphabet - so it's spelled differently, but pronounced the same. Here's the best example of that - note that "j" sounds like "y":

Some Croatians I met spoke excellent English, while others didn't have a word of it. One man asked if I would speak German instead. Most shopkeepers knew enough English to tell you the price, but not enough to describe what you were buying. In the ice cream parlors, I had to guess which flavor was which, since I couldn't read the labels and the servers couldn't translate. I had a hilarious encounter in a grocery store, where I spent five minutes examining the various jars of jam, and eventually brought an intriguing-looking one to the cashier to ask her what it was. "Marmelade," she replied. "Yes, but what kind? What does 'smokve' mean?" She asked her colleague, but nobody knew the word for it in English or in German. "Ah, but my book knows," I said as I pulled out the language guide. "Feigen" it read - fig. We all laughed as I bought the tastiest jam I've had all year.

There was a great example of creative communication from a busline official. I asked him what time the bus would arrive in Zagreb, and he understood my question but wasn't exactly sure how to answer in English. Now, his job is to collect money from passengers, so he has a little machine with numbers on dials which he can move around to "75.00" and it'll print a receipt for that amount. He moved the numbers to "1830" and showed me, so I understood that we would arrive at 6:30 pm.

I found the Croatian people to be very friendly and welcoming. I had many pleasant conversations with people on the streets or in shops. But the encounter I will never forget is with a man who struck up a conversation as we sat on park benches. He was in his early 30s, and had lived in the Croatian neighborhood in New York City for a few years, so he spoke English quite well. We talked about my visit, his new job, and then he told me that he was a veteran of the Croatian War. He lost his father and his brother on the same day, so as a teenager, he joined the army. (This was a complicated war, lasting from 1991-95, and what I understand is that it was primarily a battle for independence from the Yugoslav Republic, but there was also terrible violence between Serbs and Croats.) We spoke of many things, too personal to share here, but I will say that he's writing a book about his experience, and I encouraged him to do so and have it translated as well. It's so important to hear personal accounts of war, to really think about how it changes people's lives.

And finally, I have a very sad note. A friend and musical collaborator of mine in Denver passed away quite suddenly a few days ago. His family and his community will miss him tremendously. I hope that he is at peace.

I wish good health and strength to you all.

17 March 2008

Everything was beautiful at the...

I finally finished the piece! Today I completed the final score of Connection for percussionist. This is a piece that I've been working on for three solid months, nearly every day. That's a lot of time to produce six minutes of music for one player! Dozens of pages of sketches, hundreds upon hundreds of musical ideas written down and rejected, four drafts...But as my previous post elaborated, I've learned so much from the process, and I feel that I'm really growing as a composer - so every hour of work has been worth it. I'm quite eager to hear it played someday - Sean Statser, who commissioned the work, will learn it this year, and I hope that some of my other percussionist friends who enjoy ridiculous musical challenges will also give it a shot.

And as they sing in the chorus line, everything was beautiful…

...at the ballet
We went to two marvelous ballet performances recently. The Ballet Gala at the Staatsoper presented two large-ensemble pieces of late 19th-century choreography, set to light ballet music, very elegant and traditional. I didn't realize that the male parts consist mostly of acrobatic leaps and twists, but the men did these with great finesse. The women performed with blend of intense energy and intense poise, and Rosalind later told me that much of what they were doing was in fact extremely difficult. In a way, it's like watching the Olympics - I'm impressed by the feats of skill, but I don't even know half of what's really amazing about the performance, since I haven't been a platform diver or a ballet dancer myself. The rest of the gala featured small-ensemble settings of Philip Glass and Mozart, quite modern and exciting dancing, sometimes a dizzying array of people rushing on and off stage and several groups executing different moves simultaneously, other times very sparse and introverted.

The other performance we saw was a full-length ballet adaptation of Tolstoy's novel Anna Karenina, with music by Tchaikovsky, and new choreography by Boris Eifman. This was an emotionally powerful event, with every dancer conveying such subtlety of expression, that one had no need for words or singing to get in the way. Of course that's the idea, that a ballet tells a story of characters through dance and instrumental music, but what set this apart from other ballets I've seen is that every dance really had a meaning in the story, expressed the character's feelings or the complex relationships between characters. The company was half men and half women - contrast this to the classical pieces at the Ballet Gala, where two men danced with thirty women! Rosalind noted that the male dancing was quite masculine in Anna Karenina, also in a realistic sense, and in contrast to classical ballet.

The music was gorgeous, richly orchestrated and musically varied. There were times when I had to stop watching and just listen for a minute. Some of the music I knew I'd heard before, and only much later did I do a little research and find that, in fact, there is no Anna Karenina by Tchaikovsky. (That was a shock!) That is, the choreographer selected movements and excerpts from many of Tchaikovsky's orchestral works and put them in an order which would correspond to scenes in the ballet. It worked extremely well - after virtually millions of performances of Swan Lake and The Nutcracker, I bet the ghost of Tchaikovsky is quite pleased to see a ballet danced to some of his other music!

This production took the liberty of interpolating some truly strange avant-garde electronic music at a few dramatic points, during some of Anna's solo dances representing her inner turmoil, and at the ending. Like all the Russian literature that I'm aware of, it's a powerful and tragic story, and it ends with Anna throwing herself under the wheels of a train. They portrayed this by having the full cast dancing the part of the train, moving back and forth in mechanical rhythm, and then Anna falls from the stage's second-story into the midst of them as the music and lights cut out. Enough to make your heart stop for a minute.

You can see a few photos of an earlier production and read more about it here. Happy St. Patrick's Day! (Another holiday not officially celebrated here, although I did see one tramful of green-outfitted partygoers this weekend...)

08 March 2008

Living, Learning

Mein Camera ist kaputt. Schade. =( So it'll have to be just stories this time.

Now, I've only been ice skating about five times in my life, with a few years elapsing between each venture, so that every time I go, I have to cling to the walls most of the time. (It's just like learning to ride a bike - once you learn, you'll never forget; so if you never learn, you'll never remember.) But Rosalind is a good skater, and really wanted me to come along. So I figured it would be good to try again, and might even be fun.

We set off for the Rathaus (town hall), the same site of one of the major Christmas Markets a few months ago, now home to three enormous outdoor ice rinks. We rented skates - it's hard to look cool while walking around on skates, but everyone tries anyway - and I headed straight to the kiddie rink. The average age of this rink was about four, and even the four-year-olds could skate circles around me, that is, if I hadn't been next to the wall the whole time. But it was just the right place for me, and I'm really pleased to report that during the course of two hours, I progressed from clutching the wall to skating on my own two feet, navigating my way around the kids and passing the two-year-olds!

They have these really cute toys for the little ones: penguin dolls that are about the same size and weight as a small child, with handles protruding from their backside, so you grab on and slowly push it forward and let it pull you, without fear of falling down. There was no adult-sized version, however - the other adults in there were also wall-walking for a while.

Rosalind had a marvelous time skating - they had a neat setup with a long and twisting walkway ("skateway"?) connecting two large rinks. Like so many other special events in Vienna, stands selling drinks, food, and desserts had popped up overnight, so we enjoyed a bowl of pumpkin soup. The other thing to mention is the music - over the loudspeakers they were broadcasting a great mix of 50's doo-wop, classic rock, and even (finally!) some German-language pop songs, including one that sounded like it was specifically about Vienna. Rosalind said the soundtrack took her all the way back to middle school dances - great fun.

I'm spending a lot of time composing. That was the whole idea, of course, but even so, I'm amazed to be writing music six days a week, at least four hours a day - and as much as ten hours a day when I have a lesson coming up. So what am I actually doing?

Thinking of concepts — Imagining music in my head — Trying out ideas on the keyboard — Writing things down — Forming small ideas into longer phrases and sections — Discovering how the piece will go — Revising my concepts — Entering the music into the computer — Revising every detail many, many, many times

I've composed a lot in the past twelve years, but there are a few new challenges I'm facing this year which are taking a tremendous amount of time and energy to understand and work with. One is to come up with material which is really new, which is unique and different than what I've done before, and perhaps even different than anything I've heard before. I wouldn't go so far as to say that I've found any 100% new ideas, but I have come across a few regions which are largely unexplored. For example, I'm currently writing a piece for solo percussionist on five instruments (marimba, vibraphone, cymbal, triangles, and temple blocks) where the player hits every part of his/her instruments, including the stands, the resonators, and the frames, which give an interesting variety of "clicks" and "pings". The piece explores the concept of how opposing worlds combine, primarily how unpitched percussive sounds can blend and interact with pitched notes, as one continuum. And in other pieces, I've found that there's still so much to explore in areas of harmony (finding and working with new chords) and rhythmic freedom (getting beyond notational or musical conventions). Leonard Bernstein said in a lecture that the possibilities of music are truly infinite - and I would add that although it was true when he said it, it's even more true today, with the new worlds offered by electronic sounds, and the discoveries of new sounds from familiar instruments (from composers like Helmut Lachenmann).

Another new challenge I'm facing is to put a lot more active thought into my composing. In the past, I've treated composition as a primarily intuitive activity, with the only guiding principle being: "If it sounds good, do it." This often worked well, as I think many of my pieces have had a high level of quality and imagination. But a year or two ago, I started to feel that I'd reached a plateau, that my composing was good but not as amazing as I hoped it would be. I felt that my limitations of technique and my habits were no longer enough to serve my imagination, to capture the mindblowing music that I could occasionally hear snatches of in my head.

Try it yourself - if you have music playing as you read this, turn it off for a minute. Get to a place where there are no distracting sounds. Close your eyes and imagine a music that swirls around, leaping and soaring, wild and free. You could think of a flute, an orchestra, choral voices, a piano, an electric guitar, electronic sounds, or anything you like. What do you hear? [I encourage you to post a comment or send me an email if you'd like to share your experience!]

Sometimes I do this freely as a kind of meditation, and frequently I do this when coming up with material for a new piece. The challenge is how to really channel this imagination, this unfettered flow of musical ideas, into a single piece at a time, without surging off into unrelated areas. My intellect tries to keep up with my imagination, to transcribe what I hear, but it's a lot like watching an incredible dancer and trying to mimic their moves - your own body can't do it as well, and also they don't listen to you if you ask them to go back and repeat something more slowly!

So here's the difficulty - I'm now trying to improve my critical-thinking skills in order to make better use of this spontaneous invention. The goal is to get my left-brain and my right-brain to work closer together. And I have a slightly different guiding principle in mind: "If it sounds good, keep searching; if it sounds amazing, go with it!" Sitting down and writing notes is easy for me, but writing something really powerful, really original and unique and alive - that takes a different kind of focus and expectation. It helps to have some stimulating concepts in mind, such as the blend of unpitched and pitched worlds for my percussion solo, because these concepts become a fertile starting point for my imagination, and get me to try things which otherwise wouldn't occur to me. It takes a lot of wrong turns and dead-ends and frustrations, a lot of time spent on sketches which get thrown out the next day and concepts that don't prove fruitful - but all of this is part of the learning process, and it does eventually get me to some music that I'm really happy with and excited by.

I hope this has given you a deeper picture of what I'm actually doing as a composer. And now, a lighter story to leave you with - a sort of sequel to September's "Run-In at the Laundromat"…

Making copies is very cheap in America. Here, not so much. The standard price at neighborhood shops (as I found out the hard way) is between 15-20 euro-cents per page. Ah, but the library sells copy cards for 10 euros which let you make a staggering 250 copies, at a cost of only 4 euro-cents/page! So I bought one of these a few months ago, wrote my initials on it, and used it many times, maybe 3 euros worth. This copy card had little warning icons it, you know, "Do Not Bend", "Keep Away From Magnets & Pregnant Women", and so on. Well, wouldn't you know, it ended up touching my magnetic wallet at one point.

So I go to the library one day and find, alas, the copy machines will no longer speak to the card. It has become a demagnetized good-for-nothing, an outcast. I pondered my case and decided that seven euros was too much to just throw away, so I would speak to the library clerk and ask for a refund, or maybe a new 5-euro card (close enough). This particular clerk is also in charge of the Garderobe (the coat-check). So I approached him and explained the situation, in my halting German. He was not friendly about it, and as we walked towards a copy machine so he could test it for himself, he noticed that there was writing on the card. I said yes, I wrote on it. His demeanor went from "not friendly" to "outraged" (seriously, it did) as he scolded me, "Du musst NICHT ausschreiben!" (I thought it was a disposable card - but I guess they must reuse them, so it was my mistake.) He puts the card in the machine, it gives its helpful message "CARTE DEFEKT", and he tells me that I'll need to buy a new card.

Here's the heart of the story. I had to choose immediately between a few options. I could argue with him; I could buy a new card; I could come back on a day when someone else might be working there; or I could be quiet and appeal to his sense of generosity, if it existed. I chose the latter.

Quietly, I followed him back to the Garderobe and waited while he helped another customer with her coat. I didn't say anything, I didn't give him any pleading looks, I just stood around and waited. Now it was up to him to make the next move. After a minute, he asks me when I bought the card - and then I know he's coming around. I reply, and then he opens up a drawer and pulls out a new card. And not a five - a ten! He hands it to me, growling "RRRaRaRRRR!" or something - the meaning was clear: "I'm being nice to you THIS TIME, so DON'T write on it and DON'T demagnetize it and DON'T screw it up!!"

It's just an anecdote, I know, and it was just a small amount of money. But I find it so amazing that after scolding me and telling me that he wouldn't help me, this man decided to do something nice for me. I'm quite sure that if we had argued, I would have walked away empty-handed, and we both would have had an unpleasant encounter. But instead, I got to see him as a person with a tough exterior and a kind heart.

I guess I'm learning a lot this year, in more areas than music. I wish you all plenty of happiness and learning...

16 February 2008

Existence and Non-Existence

• Valentine's Day for the kids - no candy hearts, no making Valentines for every student in your class.
• Halloween - although the retailers have started to sell candy, and it may catch on within a few years.
• Chocolate chips.
• Good soymilk - Silk® Vanilla, in particular (nothing else compares…)
• Radio stations playing German-language popular music…incredible, but they always seem to play the same English-language pop found all over the world. I've endured such timeless (read: inescapable) classics as "In The Navy", "The Ghostbusters Theme", and "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" at the laundromat and the Billa.
• Places to shop on Sunday - It's nice to have one day a week away from consumerism. But don't forget to buy your groceries on Saturday.
• Lampposts.

• Valentine's Day for the adults - candlelit dinners, romantic evenings, and heart-shaped pillows that say "Ich liebe dich".
• Chocolate Chip Cookies - ever resourceful, we bought a large chocolate bar and chopped it into little bits to add to the cookie batter. Best chocolate chip cookies I've had in years.
• Good opera every night of the year - I recently saw my first Wagner opera, "The Flying Dutchman", marvelously performed and dramatically staged. (To see & hear excerpts from this production, click the link and then "Videobeispiel".)
We Will Rock You - "A new musical by Queen and Ben Elton" - I'm quite tempted to go, even though I love the music of Queen (and am wary of it being ruined), because I confess to being intrigued by the spectacle and kitsch of it all. It looks like they're trying to outdo Baz Luhrmann for over-the-top production and incessant stimulation, and to outdo Ed Wood for dreadful scripts. Check out some pictures, and a "plot" synopsis.
• Colorado-style weather - Here's what happened today. 8am: Snow. 10am: Sun comes out and melts it. Noon: It's quite cold out. 2pm: It's quite warm out. 3pm: More snow. 4pm: More sun. Tomorrow's forecast: Cloudy with a chance of bratwurst.

• Serious recycling - These bins for plastic, metal, and glass can be found on every other street corner. What's truly amazing is that there are some bins for compost as well! Instead of being wasted in a landfill, our food scraps and peelings can enrich the soil of nearby farms or gardens. Rosalind (being an avid gardener, but currently lacking a garden) is especially excited to know this.

• High-tension wires strung up between buildings - to make up for the lack of lampposts.

• Flammkuchen - this is like a pizza, but much thinner and without tomato sauce. In this case, the only toppings are strong cheese and spicy little pepperoncini. [This picture & this flammkuchen were taken/eaten in Munich. Check back soon for the full story from my recent trip to Germany!]

• Cartoons about sausage people - I think you can probably translate these for yourselves.

30 January 2008

From Sorabji to Stiegl

Monday night I heard an extraordinary concert by the British pianist Jonathan Powell. The Joseph Marx Society sponsored the event, and several delightful short pieces of Marx were featured, plus poetic and fiery works by some of his students. For years, I've been enjoying Powell's recordings of one of my favorite composers, Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji. Many of you have probably never heard of him, so I will provide a brief introduction.

Sorabji (1892-1988) was a composer, pianist, and music critic who spent most of his life in a small town in England. Half-Indian and half-English, he readily drew inspiration from Asian and European culture - poetry, painting, rug-weaving, literature, religion, cuisine, and music. And yet his music exists in its own world, so distant from all stylistic trends of the 20th century. He is notorious for writing fantastically difficult piano solos that last four hours or more, thereby making tremendous demands on performers and listeners alike. But the mammoth Opus Clavicembalisticum has been performed in full about a dozen times, by five different performers, while many of his other multi-hour works have been heard in recent years.

You can hear for yourself here. I would recommend scrolling down and clicking on "II. Preludio Corale" to start. (On the screen that pops up, click the "Free" button, wait a minute, then enter the code shown and click the "Download via..." button.)

Apart from the longer pieces, Sorabji wrote a great number of shorter piano works (ranging from 10 seconds to 30 minutes in duration), plus some quite approachable chamber music and songs. (I have performed his Pastiche on the Hindu Merchant's Song, an exquisitely beautiful short piece.) With the slew of world-premiere performances, recordings, and published editions in the last two decades, Sorabji's music is undergoing quite a resurgence.

And most importantly - the music itself is so powerful. The languorous nocturnes will intoxicate you with their sweet perfume, while the tumultuous variations and toccatas will tear your insides out. Like with Messiaen, the longer pieces have the effect of suspending time, of taking us away from the busy pace of our lives and into a realm where art and spirituality, the intensity of the moment and the timelessness of memory, can freely combine.

At the concert this week, Jonathan Powell played Sorabji's transcription of the final scene from Richard Strauss's opera Salome. This is quite a dense piece - the pianist basically plays the vocal lines, all of the orchestral parts, plus several extra layers of Sorabji's own pianistic arpeggios and cascading chords, simultaneously. Powell handled it with great finesse, managing to bring the requisite clarity for the vocal lines to shine through all the madness, and delivering enormous power to the climaxes. In a word - devastating. This was the first Sorabji I've heard live, and it was truly an unforgettable experience.

I introduced myself to Mr. Powell afterwards and he invited me to join him and a few of his friends for a drink. So we went out and had a marvelous time, sharing stories about our favorite musicians, discussing what composition lessons are like, and developing ideas for future concerts. And of course - drinking fine Austrian beer. Sorabji would have been quite pleased. (A connoisseur in so many regards, he once wrote an essay about the qualities of good ale.)