Summer and Hemingway

August 3, 2017


This weekend I dove back into my opera Two Oars, with Robert Wilson and some of my favorite collaborators all around: Helga Davis, Jeffrey Zeigler, and Royce Vavrek. The work is a meditation on Old Man and the Sea but as I discovered more about Hemingway, his soul seems to be infusing the work with something deeper and darker.

Here are some of my findings:

Some fascinating love letter tidbits from Hemingway…

The love story between him and Marlene Dietrich:

“What do you really want to do for a life work? Break everybody’s heart for a dime? You could always break mine for a nickel and I’d bring the nickel.”

“I can’t say how every time I ever put my arms around you I felt that I was home.”

In 1951 he wrote to her from the tropical heat of Cuba where he was trying to write The Old Man and the Sea… “It was too hot to make love, if you can imagine that, except under water and I was never very good at that.”

On dignity in writing:
“If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. A writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing.” Love. Him.
—Ernest Hemingway in Death in the AfternoonScreen Shot 2017-07-22 at 4.08.04 PM

This still above reminds me of the wife the fisherman might have left at home, the one that died, waiting for him to return on one of the many countless trips….

Another rabbit hole took me down to this Canto by Ezra Pound:

I have tried to write Paradise

Do not move

Let the wind speak

that is paradise.

Let the Gods forgive what I

have made

Let those I love try to forgive

what I have made.

and another hole yet, to him actually READING his first canto which is beautiful and terrifying and what you imagine Hemingway might actually sound like:


As I dove into CUBA, I discovered the brilliant poet, 

Nicolás Guillén (1902-1989)

The Black Sea

The purple night dreams

over the sea;

voices of fishermen,

wet with the sea;

the moon makes its exit,

dripping all over the sea.


The black sea.

Throughout the night, a sound,

flows into the bay;

throughout the night, a sound.


The boats see it happen,

throughout the night, this sound,

igniting the chilly water.

Throughout the night, a sound,

Inside the night, this sound,

Across the night – a sound.


The black sea.

Ohhh, my mulatto woman of fine, fine gold,

I sigh, oh my mixed woman who is like gold and silver together,

with her red poppy and her orange blossom.

At the foot of the sea.

At the foot of the sea, the hungry, masculine sea.

And before I set off to write, enjoy some delicious sounds by these Cuban musicians:

Wichy de Vedado, a killer musician and DJ, and the opening of this Eddie Palmieri song, Lucumi.

You can hear them here:


Off to write. Here’s my last image for this dive into Hemingway and Cuba. Hope you enjoyed!



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Happy New Year!

January 3, 2017


Happy New Year!

Thanks for visiting my blog, which I update several times a year. This is my first post, and thus a tad of a summary of some new projects, and, a send off into this complex New Year. On a personal note, my greatest resolution is to be grateful for all that has transpired and to let it soak in-I am grateful for my community, musical and non musical, grateful for having a forum for expression in National Sawdust, and in The Log-a forum that belongs to all artists and audiences, and grateful for my family and friends. I am hopeful that all my modes of expression-and those of my fellow artists-from the works we write, the works we endorse, the activism displayed in what we curate and support and commission and produce-will chip away at the granite blinding us from true freedom and greater good.



I was very excited to write this work as a gift for my friend, the brilliant violinist Rebecca Fischer. I’ve admired her since we went to Juilliard, and this project was masterminded by her husband and gifted collaborator, the artist Anthony Hawley. I am thrilled to hear it for the first time on VIA’s FERUS festival this week at National Sawdust. I can’t wait to hear the other works as well, by friends such as Nico Muhly and Lisa Bielawa, and then the second half of the program will feature the gorgeous vocalist and artist Lonnie Hawley joining Nelson Patton.

This work will premiere at Trinity on January 12 (for free) as the finale of their Time’s Arrow festival, and I am so grateful to Julian Wachner and curator Daniel Felsenfeld, who wrote his own gorgeous mass, for including me in this incredible project. I had the chance to work with the poet and writer and woman I admire tremendously, Brenda Shaughnessy. Here are her eloquent words on our intimate mass….
I want to say that the way I came at this was to think about what our true “holy” or “sacred” relationships are—and I reworked the traditional notion of the trinity (god, son, holy ghost) to be soul, our earth, and our spiritual connection, a divinity of sorts, to both that natural world and to each other’s pain.  The final Agnus Dei reworks the notion of the “Lamb of God” or the sacrifice or sacrament, to mean that this earth has a kind of natural cyclical sacrifice: soil to seed to plant to animal (the lamb that dies and is reabsorbed back into the soil) and repeats.  Is this sacrilegious?  But it’s also about how holy our planet is, and how we must understand  that we are on it as a kind of grace, and must begin to honor it as a deity that gives us life.” Brenda Shaughnessy

Here is a snippet of the Credo…




Juilliard PianoScope and the Morgan Library have commissioned me to create a new piano work that will be premiered on April 17, 2017, alongside other piano works inspired by visual art, called Illuminating Music. This new 10 minute work for solo piano is based on the following drawing in their (remarkable!) collection, to be presented along with a projection of the item (and the real thing on display, too, most likely!). I am excited to work on something non operatic or orchestral. A piano has the whole world in it, and is my first instrument. I have not written for it in 15 years so I could not be more thrilled to be writing this, and….



ONDINE Commission
The brilliant pianist Inna Faliks has commissioned a piano triptych from three composers in response to Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit-I am thrilled to join Richard Danielpour, Timo Andres and Billy Childs on this venture!

Five Alaska Natives confront historic and contemporary traumas in a stunning landscape as dramatic as its stories.

I am scoring this hour long documentary that talks about suicide among Alaska Natives. It is a true honor to be part of this powerful work by director Marsh Chamberlain and producer Evon Peter. The score will include Tanya Tagaq, Jeffrey Zeigler, David Cossin Cornelius Dufallo, and Nels Cline. The producer Evon Peter is a native of Alaska, http://www.evonpeter.com and the work he has done with tribal leaders to focus on suicide prevention is extraordinary; he is also the vice chancellor of the University of Alaska. The film will premiere on PBS!


Across the border from Syria, in a forgotten Lebanese city, sits an unexpected building, The Grand Hotel Palmyra. The hotel hasn’t closed since its opening in 1874, even as war has raged just outside its doors. The owner Rima Husseini says “no one has a right to touch hotel Palmyra, except for time.” I became fascinated with the hotel when I first came upon a video showing it’s interior. It became clear that I wanted to create a sonic orchestral world to relive it’s memories.
In her new eponymous video installation, Mami Kosemura sought to create a mysterious and unrealistic atmosphere, while using a real structure as its basis. This structure is the main salon of the Dillon + Lee townhouse, where Kosemura spent the summer. The artist wanted to abide by two self-induced rules: first to make the content of her video and the installation be of the same place. The second rule was to introduce movement, but one that is simple and rhythmic, as in a pendulum. In the installation, two mirrors in the main salon are turned into projection screens to display the videos shot in the room. The video shows the space of the salon, as a mirror would reflect it, but Kosemura’s alternative version depicts the interior sliding horizontally from left to right, and right to left at regular intervals. Kosemura has decided to incorporate the errors that happens inevitably during a video editing process to further disorient the viewer.

As it relates to the Hotel that Time Forgot, this room is meant to represent a room in The Grand Hotel Palmyra,  and is filled with every day actions. The pendulum gives the viewer the sense of loss of time, and blurred memories.


STRONG SAD is a classical new music commissioning and recording project featuring newly composed elegies for the viola.  The elegy as a musical form has often found a home in the plaintive middle-register voice of the viola—it tugs, and makes us aware of our inner landscape. On STRONG SAD, rather than the big catastrophes, the music will mourn the small, everyday losses. While some of these works may refer to lost friends and loved ones, this project will reaffirm that mourning is too important to save only for funerals, and that sadness, when given a chance to breathe, can be our best path to deep and lasting contentment and joy.

So far, the project includes commissions by Nico Muhly, Valgeir Siggurdson, Arthur Joseph McCaffrey, Robert Sirota, and Kurt Knecht. I have admired Jonah’s playing for years, and am excited to to write for him.

We just completed the recording and book of Aging Magician featuring the Attacca quartet, Brooklyn  Youth Chorus, and Rinde Eckert, and it was a truly magical journey. The next stops are specially meaningful for me as we bring to ASU Gammage, my first time in Arizona performing! And it’s final stop, broadway. For those of you that know the story, you will find it charming that our protagonist, Harold (Rinde), who is writing The Aging Magician, which is a book of secrets, his magic tricks, (which in truth are everyday musings) is going to Broadway; the notion is truly poetic. is one of my favorite pages from Harold’s Book of Secrets: one of the first sketches of the instrument/set by Mark Stewart.


clownmagician-instrumentTHE COLORADO
Our film/live score The Colorado will go to Stanford Live for Earth Day.  We are very excited to participate in 2 days of performance and discussion centered on themes from The Colorado, and are so grateful to the brilliant team at Stanford for envisioning this meditation and focus on the environment.

My first grand opera premiered! It was a joy to work with the brilliant cast and team of collaborators. Here are some of my favorite pictures by the brilliant photographer, Jill Steinberg.
Gilgamesh at the Cutler Majestic Theatre Gilgamesh at the Cutler Majestic Theatre

This concert is one of the highlights for me for the season. I get to work with my husband, muse, and brilliant cellist and BOTH of my mentors! John Zorn and Philip Glass. Jeffrey Zeigler will premiere all our works on this series birthed by composer Bob Sirota. This series truly embodies the spirit of National Sawdust, and I could not be prouder to be on it. My work is a New York premiere of a cello concerto with electronics, and the works of Zorn and Glass are also NY premieres.


Ian Rosenbaum’s debut CD, Memory Palace
Francesca de Pasquale’s Debut CD
Musical America Innovators
Boston Globe
The Boston Musical Intelligencer
The Reading Eagle
The Log Journal​

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Gilgamesh Launches

November 8, 2016

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.

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Hubble Cantata

October 28, 2016

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!


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