My Blog

Happy Fall, friends! Welcome back to my blog. So many projects have come to fruition, here is a guide.

Gilgamesh Launches

This weekend is it! After three years of work, my opera, Gilgamesh, which is part of a larger trilogy called Ouroboros, is opening this weekend in Boston. Please buy tickets here: Diving into the legend of Madame Whitesnake has been a truly fascinating journey. Cerise's text is deeply poetic and her writing contains numerous layers and references that both gives me a clear structure while still leaving me a great deal of freedom to dive in fully to create my first fully operatic work. I love the concept of the Ouroboros Trilogy and that the recurring themes and motifs that occur in each opera are interpreted uniquely by each composer. Gilgamesh is structured so that there is a propulsive drive throughout the first three acts. It is then met with a deeply meditative epilogue that allows the audience to ponder the drama that has occurred. Leitmotifs are assigned to emotions and actions, rather than to characters, thus binding them in cyclical patterns that determine and unlock their fate. Here is a picture from Act II with the Abbot and Gilgamesh from Michael Count’s and S. Katy Tucker’s stunning work.

Hubble Cantata

This work premiered this August 8th, and the audience of 6,192 people experienced VR-many for the first time! Hubble’s legacy and what it has done for our understanding of the Universe is at the core of our drive to give it a musical life. The loss of communication between loved ones in the cantata storyline is echoed by the expansion of the Universe “at the rate of our imagination” (something Mario often says). Yet as the fictional astrophysicist’s understanding of the Universe deepens, he reconstructs his wife’s story and understands her better. Woven together, those twin threads in the piece — the rarity of life in the grand cosmic scene, and Hubble’s revelation of that scene — connect human and cosmic scenarios, revealing realities that may exist at vastly different scales, but that are each vastly important. Below is a look at the VR glasses that the Time Warner Foundation sponsored for Hubble!

Aging Magician on Broadway

Our work is going to ASU Gammage and The New Victory Theater! I could not be more excited. You can purchase tickets here: [Tickets]

If you are in Arizona or want to visit us on Broadway, please come see this beautiful piece of theater!

Friends, thank you for visiting my blog. I will write here at least once a month on my findings, projects, and musings. Below are some photos of my recent trip down the Colorado River. Here are two great little videos about this latest venture...

This video will give you and idea about the project:

And this is the trailer:

This Spring, I am honored to have several new commissions that are truly inspiring me, and also that are in many cases instigated by young artists I truly admire and organizations that are new to me. An example of this is Francesca de Pasquale. Francesca is the recipient of a two-year career grant from the Leonore Annenberg Fellowship Fund for the Performing and Visual Arts, and with this grant, she is commissioning a violin fantasy from me that will go on her first album! I am beyond thrilled, and loved hearing about her Italian family, and their extraordinary background...

I am also the recipient of an ASCAP Commission for the Yoani Song Cycle, which will be performed by Hotel Elefant, run by two fabulous composers I admire, Mary Kouyoumdjan, and Leaha Villarreal. Their "speakOUT" season continues March 8, featuring yours truly. This all-female program also includes works by the wonderful composers Lainie Fefferman and Leaha Maria Villarreal. My Yoani songs are inspired by the blog, generation y. Librettist Royce Vavrek and I have had a great time exploring her perspective and views on Cuba, her frustrations, joys, and explosive unveilings.

The Klein competition opportunity gives me a wonderful chance to write for solo instruments. For the past 29 years, the Irving M. Klein International String Competition has attracted some of the world's finest young string players to San Francisco each June to compete for cash and performance prizes totaling over $25,000. This is a wonderful statement on their site:

We have always believed that musicians (and especially young ones) need to know the language of the music of their own time. Music continues to evolve and progress by absorbing the history, culture and sensibilities of the world around the composers and performers. Music exists, in part, to express the experiences of the present moment.

For these reasons, the Klein Competition has always required applicants to perform 20th/21st Century works, to demonstrate facility in performing music of the present. In addition, we have commissioned excellent composers to create new works to challenge the imagination and technique of our performers at the Competition.

The Composer for the 2015 Klein Competition is me!

Lastly, I am thrilled to be writing a new work for the Dalton Orchestra! They have a rich history of commissioning, and have commissioned many of my contemporaries, including Eric Nathan and Gregory Spears. I am excited to be writing for them, and can't wait to share the work this May!

I leave you with some photos taken by the filmmaker Murat Eyuboglu on our trip down the Colorado...till next time!

Thoughts Writing Gilgamesh

Writing my first opera has been an astounding process. The opportunity to write in this specific long form has created a different sense of priority for my writing technique. As usual, the words allow me to dive into the musical realm and palette as they inherently inhabit music, and call for specific colors. Each character and main event has it's own melody or motive, and as I work through the work, there is an internal logic that allows this cast of musical characters to weave their own logic, and it is thrilling. The priorities are now to create a reoccuring palette of motives that tell a story, and so I am looking at structure and timeline in a deeper way than ever. I am writing for two of my beloved muses, Hila Plitmann and Christopher Burchett, and several new muses, among them Anthony Roth Costanzo and Heather Buck. I am now done with two acts, and am moving on to the third. What is really unique about the process is the tremendous sense of camaraderie amongst the entire team. I have never written a work that contains the vision of other composers, and working and bouncing music off of Scott Wheeler has been a joy. We recently met at 3 Legged Dog in NYC, and had our first production meeting. Michael Counts took our breath away. Here is a sneak peak!

Gilgamesh is the story of Ming, the son of Madame White Snake, half demon-half man who was abandoned during his mother's epic battle with the Abbot. He is identified with the protagonist of the Sumerian Epic, "Gilgamesh", who was two-thirds god and one-third man. When the White Snake suddenly sends for him on his thirtieth birthday, he finds her in the form of a beautiful woman imprisoned in the Abbot's alms bowl. The White Snake reveals his birthright and his power to control the waters. Ming tests his powers and brings the world to the brink of another devastating flood. The Abbot appears and sows the seeds of doubt about his mother. When Ming goes back to see her again, he sees a white snake in the alms bowl. Ming returns home to find that his wife, Ku, has just given birth to a white, iridescent baby girl who resembles her grandmother. He gives the baby to the green snake, Xiao Qing, who had taken him as a baby away from the floodwaters. He returns to the monastery. There is no one there. A robe and empty alms bowl are left. Ming dons the robe, takes the alms bowl and leaves.

Gilgamesh is only one of three operas that the amazing librettist, Cerise Jacobs, has written. Each opera is interrelated. The OUROBOROS trilogy will consist of three operas: composer Zhou Long's acclaimed Madame White Snake, and two brand new operas, Gilgamesh by yours truly and Naga by Scott Wheeler. The new OUROBOROS trilogy will make its World Premiere in September 2016 in Boston. With libretti by Cerise Lim Jacobs, direction and design by MICHAEL COUNTS music direction by Steven Osgood, Gilgamesh will premiere at THE EMERSON CUTLER MAJESTIC in September, 2016, produced by Beth Morrison Projects and presented by Boston Celebrity Series, with participation by The Boston Children's Chorus, and the New England Conservatory (among others).

Aging Magician Process

The aging magician process....what can I say? It's been amazing working with such talented and multi visioned artists. Above are a few pages from Rinde's notebook. I was blown away when I saw them...Rinde's journey through this piece has been rich, long, and deep. I think he's seen parts of himself in our protagonist, Harold, and I think for all of us in life, the moment when we deeply look into the meaning of time, its passing, and legacy, is not only important, but it can be a heart stopping moment. I've had immense fun working with Rinde and seeing how his agile mind works, and Julian, who has the eye of the audience and who in his own genius holds the every day beauty/understanding of humanity. Then add the brilliance of Dianne with her choir, Brooklyn Youth Chorus, the JACK Quartet and the imagination of Mark Stewart, and well, you get Aging Magician. I hope you'll join us at the Park Avenue Armory for the Prototype Festival and Opera America's New Works Forum! Here is a Sneak Peek!

Here is the note from Rinde:

I've become very fond of Harold, the clockmaker and storyteller. He has gone through various subtle personality changes as the narrative has evolved. Harold began as a somewhat repressed clockmaker who always wanted to be a magician. Stricken with a heart attack, his soul boarded a train to Coney Island, where he would remain eternally. Our next version of this piece focused on Harold's journey to deliver a watch to a client in Coney Island. In the process Harold revisited the death of his father, a cataclysmic event in his childhood. Yet this version missed the elegance of the train trip to Coney Island and representation of Coney Island as Harold's idea of heaven.

I was also interested in making the eponymous Aging Magician a character in the piece rather than a concept. I thought back to a book of diagrams and explanations by Eugene Robert-Houdin (considered the father of modern stage magic). Many magicians have since written similar books for posterity. It occurred to me that an aging magician, concerned with his legacy, might be compelled to find a protégé to pass on his book, the collected knowledge of a lifetime.

In the version we present to you as part of the PROTOTYPE Festival, Harold is a watchmaker who never pursued his dream of becoming a magician. Confronting his own mortality, he struggles to complete a novel about an elderly magician in crisis over his legacy. Harold becomes his fictional protagonist, freeing him from his cloistered life in the clock shop. The book begins with the aging magician on the operating table, having just suffered a stroke. As the magician gets closer and closer to his end (a personal heaven represented by Coney Island), Harold's dilemma comes into sharper focus: having become one with his character, how does the story end? A part of him will die in this process, and yet, with the book, Harold's legacy is created, a kind of immortality in the completed story.

The Aging Magician deals with notions of time, our relation to the material world, death, nostalgia, illusion, faith, and identity. We are inside Harold's small shop, where his world becomes immensely large, a magic trick in itself. - Rinde Eckert

Letting go of Oceanic...

People ask me often, "How do you write more than one work at a time?" It's like asking, "Can you imagine having more than one friend?" I mean, some people may have only one friend, but I don't. These pieces aren't just works of art, they're my life and the people I'm working with become my friends-I care about them, I want to learn from them. I tend to find myself with several of these long-process works, each being at a different stage of development, because you can't precisely predict funding, or your collaborators' schedules-you just don't know. I prefer to have several conversations going on at the same time; I find that they're very distinct languages.

Oceanic Verses is, and probably will remain, one of those pieces that I'm happy I wrote but that are hard to come back to. It took years to put together, and it's finally launched our new label, VIA Records. The piece faced many many hardships, including my worst NY Times review, which stalled me on the piece for about a year. Luckily, my collaborators, Beth Morrison and Julian Wachner, wanted to see me finish the piece. That gave me faith. Many many other obstacles were faced, and overcoming them was hard, but it made me learn about what it takes to see things through in this industry.

With Oceanic Verses, which began with a Carnegie Hall commission, I wanted to discover my Italian side and find its resonance in who I am today. As a child, I had, of course, a deep relationship with Italy-we went back every year, I felt culturally Italian-but I didn't really understand how that identity fit into the side that was also genuinely American and also influenced by Mexico. The best thing to do, I decided, was to go and discover the music that affected me the most. I went to a residency in Lecce, in the southern part of Italy. I had been to the Italian South before and really loved it, because that's where I saw waves of immigration and a cross section of music styles, but also a cross section of cultures.

Just on the side, I had studied Alan Lomax's sound and field recordings and used a few of them as inspiration points. But my intent was to record my own field samples. Being part of the Sound Res residency program allowed me to do a bit of work in a foster care home. I used my phone-just really simple technology-to create soundscapes. I asked the children to sing for me the song they loved the most, which was: "Fimmene fimmene ca sciati allu tabaccu ne sciati doi e ne turnati quattru." These were girls that ranged from eight to twelve years old; they sang in a dialect called Griko, and they jangled their bracelets and laughed. I asked, "What does that song mean?" They said, "Well, it means that it's hot in the tobacco fields, and the women were very hot, and it's beautiful here-" They were confused. I, of course, knew the meaning of the words; it's a song about rape. It means: women of the tobacco field, you go in two and return in four. In the opera, I juxtapose that field recording of those young girls singing with the plight of the women in the chorus, and you get a dark juxtaposition of innocence and depth that Helga Davis introduces in an amazing improvisation. I have to say that one of the things I love about this piece, but that many people found challenging, is that it really does bring together all different kinds of styles of singing. There is Helga, with a four-octave range, untrained, and an ability to bend the voice and color it with her life experiences, and improvise-which then became a tool for my language. Then, there is Claudio Prima, the folksinger who's from the area-I'd heard him one night in a bar and vowed that one day I would write a piece for him. And there are Hila Plitmann and Chris Burchett, whom I've been writing for, for years, and who inspire me greatly with their range and their lack of fear. I think that lack of fear in performance is what binds the four of these characters and muses for me. Oceanic Verses brings four people on stage that don't seem to belong together, but to me that made perfect sense. Both female characters struggle with trying to find their internal geography: the Peasant feels invisible because she is part of a system where she does not exist; and the Scholar-who is essentially a melding of Helga and me-is searching for artifacts, things that are forgotten across oceans, across time. Part of her internal geography is invisible, and she has to unearth that. So this piece maps and tracks their transformation and pits that against a global struggle with borders and immigration, and comes together with one's search for one's identity. Perhaps that is why this piece is so special but also so difficult for me-it hits all of these deep issues that have been with me since childhood.

Invisibility not being an option-it is something I profoundly believe in, and that this piece explores. Here is a photo of me at our Oceanic launch at the Dillon gallery! Oceanic has officially launched...I am happy to let it go into the world, finally. Next performance of Oceanic is at NYFOS's Paul Moravec & Friends, featuring Amy Owens on February 10th at 7p at the National Opera Center.

Photo: Jill Steinberg

My Companies

National Sawdust
September 9, 2016

National Sawdust launches into season two with amazing growth and a year under our belt-over 350 performances happened, and we welcomed over 27,000 patrons! We launched a Publication program heralded by the amazing Steve Smith, and this year will produce (and commission) over ten operas. I am also excited to finally be diving into the mentoring angle of the non profit which is at the heart of our mission. Below are some thoughts on the importance of education at NS, and, our NY Times season announcement.

"As a composer, I believe the role of an artist in the 21st century should be that of creator, educator, performer, and entrepreneur. I believe that 21st-century composers/artists need to be thinking about what impact they can have on their existing community, both locally and globally.

At National Sawdust (NS), we believe the future of new art lives in education. We define education broadly. To us, education is about giving young people and community members opportunities and tools to explore their potential for artistic and creative expression. But it is also about ensuring that artists themselves never stop learning – about their craft, about the work of their peers, about the business of the arts, about their own capacities to be educators and advocates. NS facilitates this kind of learning by bringing together artists from around the world in exciting composition- based projects, teaching opportunities, cultural exchanges, and hands-on management experience. Through this cultural synthesis artists leave lasting impressions on one another, become more versatile and resilient professionals, and create works that reflect a plural understanding of American society."

I hope to see you on October 1st, where we will program two extraordinary works in development! The Lullaby Movement is a deep study of lullaby ritual around the world and how the world, in 24 languages, uses lullaby to connect. The work is conceived of and performed by Sophia Brous. Requiem for a Tuesday, conceived of by Davone Tines and Helga Davis is a requiem for the every day, daring to ask the question that perhaps beyond fearing death, we fear each other. With both these works, NS poses to not only position contemporary works by living artists on today's stage, but also raise important questions with modern voices for the modern audience.

September 9, 2016

VIA formally became the touring multimedia production arm of National Sawdust this March. After 15 years of helming the non profit of my dreams, I realized combining these two dreams, and boards, made sense! VIA Records will also be part of NS, and VIA works will continue to tour, and, to incubate at the annual FERUS festival at National Sawdust every January. We welcome submissions, and are excited to continue developing cross disciplinary genre defying work!

As many of you know, I founded VisionIntoArt while I was at the Juilliard School, studying. I've grown in every aspect through this company, and it has brought be the greatest joys! With the belief that collaboration sustains artistic innovation, VIA creates and commissions works that involve various disciplines, presented around the world for the general audience, and forged from the most exciting emerging and established artists living today as well as interdisciplinary experts including scientists and conservationists. VIA is a one-stop-shop for artists in various disciplines - by incubating, commissioning, and disseminating (via our label) cross disciplinary work, VIA inhabits a special place in the artistic eco-system. We recently launched our label and I can't wait to share the amazing plans we have for this year's releases...We love working with Mogollon, our design team, and the process is fun, collaborative, and marries the visual with sound, which is really VIA's DNA. They've done great work for SIA, Jeffrey Zeigler, my own Oceanic Verses (shown below), and for the new space I am creative director for...Original Music Workshop. And, speaking of OMW...

A few years ago, I got this phone call and I met this gentleman, Kevin Dolan, who's a retired tax attorney. His idea was to create a platform for up-and-coming musicians in less commercialized genres and, unique to New York, a performance space that could also be used as rehearsal and recording space on a 24/7 basis. In Kevin's own words: "I understand that, for many, music is fundamental to their being, and to some it represents a salvation of sorts. So the basic purpose of this endeavor is to help composers and performing artists-particularly younger folks and future artists-and their listeners, nurture whatever fundamental essence is inside of them and to help them, and their art, survive. It's that simple."

Over the last couple of years Kevin and I have put a team together and we have this incredible space in Williamsburg that is nearing completion. Original Music Workshop will open in the fall of 2015. As the creative director, I've curated two years of programs that show the philosophy behind the space. That, to me, is one of the ways in which I can contribute back to my field-by helping to nurture talent and supporting young artists' steps into professional life. As a composer, it's not enough to just worry about yourself. We live in a continuum, and if we don't care about the health of our industry, then we're going to suffer for that.

We will have a performing space doubling as a recording studio-it was designed by Arup, an acoustic consulting firm that did an impeccable job. It's called a box-in-box construction, which essentially means that it's acoustically completely isolated and pristine.

The space is set up as a hybrid model, so it's got the venue itself and on the other side it's got a restaurant. I'm designing residencies for about twelve groups that will be able to rehearse in the space, have subsidized recording rates, and in turn, will curate their own programs and discover artists that they love and want to help support. Everyone can benefit from the network of partnerships that we're developing. Those partnerships provide festival-like programming with young artists, or emerging artists, from across different styles of music. We're also working with a community center, El Puente, through one of our residents, Found Sound Nation, which will be mentoring kids through music production and technology. Please visit us here!