Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A Lap Around the Sun

May 19th is not an important day, per se. There are plenty of other anniversaries to keep track of. Weddings, birthdays, etc. But I first posted here a year ago with an over-long and somehow much-too-short-and-inadequate explanation of how I view the world.

As time has passed and we have traveled across Europe, this has turned into more of a 'what-I've-been-up-to' place rather than a place for reflection on serious things: philosophy, music. And I'm sure whoever is reading this is thankful for that.

Still, I thought I'd take a moment to examine ways I have or haven't changed in the past year.

I got married, which has been the best decision I've ever made. Obama was elected, at last restoring my confidence in my government and eliminating my frustration with politics; after the election, I was surprised by how much of my energy I used to devote to being angry with Bush & Co. Good riddance.

Still, the most striking feature of this last year has to be our move to Europe. It has been more eye-opening than I imagined it would. If one has a different view of the world after a two-week stint in another country, imagine how different it must be after nine months. And it's not only England: we live with people from New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, Spain, and Syria. It also ties in with how much Teriann and I have traveled; more, certainly, than I have in the past, and more, probably, than I will. In the last year, we went to:

St. Thomas and St. John in June (for our honeymoon)
Las Vegas in August
London in September (to live here, no less)
Venice in October
Bath in December
Berlin in March
Ireland and Barcelona in April
Alsace (and coming up, Belgium) in May

Music. What an odd year this has been. I have said it often: grad school is not what I thought it would be. It's partly the peculiarities of the College, but it's probably also partly the difference between perceptions. When you're a kid, you always think you're a big kid. When you're a big kid, you look at younger kids and think, 'Is that what I used to look like?'

So, unlike the graduate student I thought I'd be, I don't have it all figured out. Music in the UK is so different from that in the US (they are, for example, seemingly unaware of post-minimalism, just as the US is seemingly unaware of spectral music). For instance, when I wrote the woeful 'THE Issue' post, my experience at the Oregon Bach Festival Composers Symposium was still ringing in my ears; at that moment, the issue was detectable pulse or not? A year on, that seems like only half the issue.

I'm also still in the slump that started at the end of 2007. It's not that i haven't written music. I've written well over an hour of it since moving to London. I just haven't made it matter yet. It's all student music, and very little (if any) of it actually contributes to the body of music out there. I feel that sooner or later my slump will end; I can envision what a music that I might be satisfied with will sound like; I'm just not there yet.

And despite this swirling, murky, brilliant, uncertain year, I'm proud that not much of my worldview has changed; it suggests to me that those things I hold as essential as unmovable are in fact parts of me and not of my environment. I love Teriann. I believe that neither religion nor science fully understand the complexities of the universe or the human. I believe good and mediocre musics come in all forms: tonal and atonal, consonant and dissonant, simple and complex. I believe that art is my driving force.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Quality, Not Quantity

Today was the second performance of my work in London. Richie (who we traveled to Alsace with last week) and Emily (a soprano I met through the Ionian Singers) performed my Three Miniature Songs. They did a spectacular job — I'll get the recording up as soon as I can. Ideally, I'll get the new website up as soon as I can!

I know what you're thinking. I've lived here for almost nine months, but only two performances? Turns out that performances in London are hard to come by, but when they do come around, they are of impeccable quality: my concert in the National Portrait Gallery in November was also one of the best performances I've ever had. And while two in nine months sounds low at first, that's only in London; in the US, I've had two more performances during that time (in Chicago and Mississippi). And looking forward, Taylor will be performing Postcard at ASU at the end of the month, and I'll be conducting Thanatopsis here in London at the beginning of June.

Huzzah for talented people playing my music!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Ahhh... a relaxing weekend...

The reason I'm so excited to have a chilled-out, relaxing weekend is that I've been traveling for the past two. At the end of April, we went to Barcelona (which, if you're reading this, presumably you've read about) and last weekend we went to the Alsace region of France, which is right on the German border; in fact, at various points in history it has been in Germany and not France.

We started off by visiting the quaint, adorable town of Colmar. I don't think there's a place in the world that has more crooked, charismatic streets bursting with crooked, charismatic, half-timbered buildings as Colmar. It's one of those places that one photo cannot do justice because part of its charm is the collective effect of so many leaning, centuries-old buildings.

We had drinks on a canal,

dinner in a quaint little place (the whole town is a fairy tale),

and strolled a bit more to see the 'Little Venice' area of town.

By the time we hopped a train to Strasbourg for the evening, we were already enamored with Alsace.

Strasbourg is the main city in the region, and though often overlooked by mainstream tourists, somehow manages to be both charming (it feels surprisingly small despite its massive and impressive cathedral) and bustling (because of its symbolic position on the Franco-German border, it is the capital of the EU and the seat of the EU parliament).

The next morning, we caught a train and then a bus (which oddly enough we had to ourselves) to Haut-Koenigsburg, a castle that, despite being in France, was built and rebuilt exclusively by Germans (because, again, the land has passed back and forth between them for centuries). It was by far my favorite castle experience thus far.

From there, I had a surprise for Teriann.

Me: "Now honey, it was quite a doing to get here, what with the train and bus and all; so I have a surprise for you. Something way cooler than the castle to make the journey worthwhile."

Teriann (without missing a beat): "We're getting engaged!?"

Imagine my confusion when my wife asks me if I'm going to propose to her.

Me: "No..... we're married. You enjoy feeding squirrels in Hyde Park, right?"

Teriann: "Yes!"

Me: "Okay, what would be cooler than squirrels?"

Teriann: "Manatees?"

Me: "Yes, that would be cool, but, no."

Teriann: "Elephants?"

Me: "No."

Teriann: "Ummm... tigers?"

Me: "No, it's something we're going to feed."

As the narrator of this riveting tale, I'll take the liberty of skipping the next few minutes of this conversation and get right to the answer to the question: Monkeys!

Yes, that's right, as random as random comes, there is a Macaque sanctuary in the hills of Alsace (only a few minutes down the road from the castle), where we spent two glorious hours making furry, strangely-human friends.

Needless to say, this was probably the highlight of the trip.

We spent the rest of the day rummaging around Strasbourg, including the surprise of the city: the magnificent cathedral.

I know that it's tiresome to keep hearing about things that pictures don't do justice, but it's one of the best things about traveling: seeing in person things that photos can only capture part of. Strasbourg Cathedral is the most massive, most intricate Gothic building I have ever seen. It makes Westminster Abbey look plain and humble.

The rest of Strasbourg was equally beautiful. We stopped for a drink in the 'Little France' area, which was probably one of the most pleasant hours I've spent anywhere.

We had dinner at the restaurant 'Au Pont St. Martin' (on the St. Martin bridge), which was more charming than it was tasty; not it wasn't tasty, but look how charming it is!

And with that, it was on to our last day. Monday was a Bank Holiday, so we were lucky enough to have a three-day weekend. Monday was the day we were in four countries: we woke up in Strasbourg, took a train to Freiburg in Germany, and had to take a train to the edge of Switzerland to fly back to England. Phew...

I know this has been a long post, but one last about Germany: I love it. Before Monday, all I had seen of Germany was Berlin, which I had mixed reactions to. Freiburg, however, is a charming little college town. And the food! Immediately upon arrival in the train station, I grabbed a pizza-ish snack; down the road, I got a cinnamon roll-ish pastry; at the farmer's market around the cathedral in the center of town, I got a pear. I love Germany!

The town itself was also quite pretty.

What a way to spend a weekend —even if it is tiring!

There are two facebook albums for this trip:

Colmar, Castle, and Monkeys
Strasbourg and Freiburg

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Beautiful Barcelona

For the last weekend of April (almost two weeks ago by now — yikes), we went to Barcelona on the Spanish Mediterranean coast with our flatmates Sarah and Bryce. Sarah is the one we first talked to via email about renting the house in the first place, so basically it's because of her we were able to get a spot in such a great house; since then, too, the 4 of us have become really good friends.

Our first impression of the city was the Arc de Triomf. It's set in a pleasant little park, and already we could tell that Barcelona is a city that concerns itself with having beautiful buildings and public spaces. Yes, the Arc de Triomph in Paris is bigger and more famous, but this one's quite nice as well.

Our hotel room was in the Old City, a maze of narrow, charismatic streets that could just as soon be in Italy as in Spain. From our hotel room, here's the view to the left,

the right,

and down!

Turns out we were just above a groovy little smoothie shop! Yes, we had smoothies for breakfast the next day and yes, they were fantastic!

From there, we hit the beach. I had never seen the Mediterranean before, so I was quite excited. Turns out that it was overcast and windy when we got there, so it didn't look too spectacular at first. We were able to get these pics the next day before dinner, though.

Growing up in the desert, I'm not exactly a beach aficionado, but I was surprised to see it so clean in the heart of a big city. Plus, after an evening of sangria, there were all kinds of things to climb on!

I didn't know about this until right before our trip, but one of the main figures in the history of the city is Antonio Gaudi, an architect whose creativity and vision might be likened to Salvador Dali or the modern architect Frank O. Gehry. Not that Gaudi's work mirrors theirs, only that all three are strikingly original and fascinating.

Here, for instance, is his apartment building known as 'la Pedrera' and his masterpiece, the still-under-construction 'Temple de la Sagrada Familia', which is impossible to adequately depict on film.

It's also clear that Gaudi's influence rippled through the rest of the city, because most buildings are more interesting or evocative than they typically are in other cities — parts of Barcelona are almost showcases for slightly quirky architecture.

And to conclude our weekend? ¡Paella y sangria!

Here are more pictures from the trip: facebook album

Friday, May 1, 2009

May Day!

I am absolutely crushed-busy with projects for school. Too crushed, even, to procrastinate and lament during the week about precisely how crushed I am; nope, just shoulder to the wheel. For school, I currently have to:

1) finish a piece with a peculiar instrumentation (flute, clarinet, bassoon, harp, violin, cello) by May 11
2) orchestrate 7 minutes of Henry Cowell's piano music (don't know the deadline)
3) give a presentation on May 21 about the convergence/divergence of styles between vocal and non-vocal music by a composer of my choice (haven't chosen one yet)
4) submit composition portfolio on June 1
5) conduct concert on June 8 (not to mention rehearsals) that includes Joubert's Octet, my piece, Thanatopsis, and a work by one of my fellow students
6) May 2-4, Strasbourg/Alsace; May 16-17, camping; May 23-25, Belgium; June 6-7, Munich/Neuschwanstein

Okay, that last one shouldn't really count, but travel takes time too!

Oh, and did I mention that I just started a new job? I did: I'm a lowly intern at Lo-Max records, a small label in north London. Sheesh.

Join all this with the fact that the summer program I was planning on going to is now canceled (thanks economy!), and that I already turned down another summer festival's offer because I thought I was going to this one... yikes. Boy, do I need to go to France this weekend...