> wednesday > 26 April 2017 > Oakland, CA, USA


It was 5am that I woke up, 5:40am that I faced one hundred steps leading down perilously to the dark winding highway below, making two trips, three hundred steps, to collect both suitcases, 5:57am that I made it to the bus, sweat not just dripping but practically cascading down my face; 3 minutes to spare. And then I was out of Italy.


A fond memory I have of that departure is catching a final coffee at Malpensa. Airports in Italy are not quite the islands they are in the rest of the world. Coffee culture, something that no other country really has like Italy does (and certainly not the pretentious joke that it is in the United States or UK), is the bridge. So at Malpensa like anywhere else - any train station, small town square, Genoese alley, etc. - you line up, pay your one euro (or slightly more), take your receipt, and receive a genuinely perfect cup within a minute, or frequently less. In my case, it was one final cappuccino. And then it was time to go.


The night before I left, I got to finish the first movement of Pensées. What is it, after all? A commission for the EUNIC project I mentioned back in March. And since arriving back in the US, I am almost through movement two - a vastly different, haunting, less technical tonal piece. This time I don’t quite know what the final picture of the piece will be. But it is something that is pushing the envelope once again. Oh, yes, it is.


> wednesday > 12 April 2017 > Bogliasco, Italy


In a few days, I am leaving Bogliasco, this place I had never heard of prior to arriving and now, by now, a place that I will hear internally for perhaps the rest of my life. It is no florid exaggeration to say so. One of the strongest impressions I had, after all, was not of Bogliasco at all but of Genoa, a city I had never visited despite having traveled to Italy almost every year once a year since 2007. Genoa lacks many things - the monuments of Rome, the cosmopolitanism of Milan, the open-air museum quality of Florence, the sheer extravagance of Venice, even the Bourbon exoticism of Naples. Genoa, on the other hand, stretches out for miles across the Ligurian Gulf; one can quite literally transit for almost an hour on the train along the Genovese coast, passing what seems like distinct towns, cities, centers. In fact, this is what Genoa used to be. The city still lacks a distinct central focal point in its urban environment. At least, I used to think so, until I realized that what Genoa congregates around, much unlike any other city I’ve ever been to, is the sea, and only the sea.


A full moon over Bogliasco and the aptly-named Golfo Paradiso.


It’s the sea I’ve been looking onto directly from my villa for the past four weeks. The sea has not proved to be any direct inspiration for my work here in Bogliasco. But it has been a constant backdrop, much like, I imagine, it has been for many artists, tradesmen, and entrepreneurs in Genoa. And that’s also what’s very distinct - it’s a city of workers, of hard workers. Genoa is not pretty in a conventional way - though living in Bogliasco and next to one of the most wealthy areas in Italy (St Ilario), one could make the opposite case very easily - but it has a beauty that comes from its honesty. Even the excess here, the excess of the mansions built by some of the wealthiest families in European history, is a functional excess. Nothing is wasted - no inch of flat land goes unimproved.


So with that, I return to the United States on Friday. I recently received a recording of Manifesto from the Archipel festival, performed with care, attention, strength, and flair by the amazing Orchestre Symphonique Ose! and its kind, visionary conductor Daniel Kawka. The piece benefited strongly, also, from the instruction and attention of Kaija Saariaho, who adopted the piece during the final rehearsals and gave it her own imprint of sensitivity and daring. Of all the performances, it is this one that is the definitive one. And it’s really because everyone involved cared enough to make every detail - and every “inch” of the vision - happen in a beautiful way.


> wednesday > 29 March 2017 > Bogliasco, Italy


Back to Bogliasco - now, somehow warmer, brighter, as if during my absence, spring magically turned a corner and settled any remaining doubts.


By all accounts, the Orchestre Symphonique Ose! brought Manifesto to life in a most unexpected way; having spent 5+ hours on rehearsal, the orchestra, and all credit to Daniel Kawka, dove into the score not just to perform the piece as well as possible, but to also discover the central story of the piece, to bring all the details forward, and to, undoubtedly, make the definitive performance. The piece has got legs, for sure. It was commissioned by the London Philharmonic, premiered in 2014, and then brought to the US by Osmo Vänskä in January 2015 with the Minnesota Orchestra, a performance that finally did the piece justice. But from what Maestro Kawka managed to achieve in Geneva last week, there was more than just the notes and the expressions on the page. In other words, March 26th at the Alhambra in Geneva was, from all I know, the piece’s true debut. And for that, I am eternally grateful to all who made it happen, and the musicians who wrote me such encouraging messages saying that the piece brought them into an “ecstasy” they did not heretofore imagine.


Daniel Kawka and the Orchestre Symphonique Ose! at the Alhambra, Geneva. Morning public presentation and lecture.


With the D Major Preludes finally finished and work onward to another project, the Trauma & Revival commission, made in conjunction with the European Union National Institutes for Culture and kim? Contemporary Arts Centre in Riga, Latvia, for Iris Oja and Ensemble YXUS - this piece, like the D Major Preludes, will likely also end up far more grand than originally planned. But it is time to think big and to think expansively. I am, after all, in a place where the sea stretches out almost to infinity and gravity is perhaps the only direction. In Bogliasco, my imagination is very open...as are the possibilities.


> wednesday > 15 March 2017 > Bogliasco, Italy


I don’t wake up; the sun wakes me up somewhere past six am but not quite seven. The expanse is completely blue and almost featureless. Only a few not-quite-parallel lines, moving slowly inwards and downwards, break the monotony of the blue. Then, around seven thirty or so, the squeaks and rattles of a train somewhere far below, quite literally a few hundred feet (or even meters), becoming ever more regular, begin to feature. The Villa dei Pini, the stairs leading down to the sea (because no road could ever conquer the hills), the twisted cypress trees, and the cacti: this is Liguria. This is Bogliasco.


The view from Villa Orbiana, Bogliasco.


I am here of course as a fellow of this most prestigious foundation. It is no ordinary residency. I’m loathe to draw comparisons or relate the luxury of having three meals a day cooked to order by a team of chefs in a most incredible and atmospheric early Twentieth century villa, surrounded by Guggenheim fellows and the like. It is certainly not a bad place to be, or a bad place to write music either.


But this also means I will be missing the first reunion concert of Resonabilis since the group went on a performance hiatus in 2015; they will get together for the first time in two years to perform I awoke and there were no walls to shield me from the moonlight at Kumu (Estonia’s, and the Baltics’, greatest contemporary art center) tomorrow. And next week Daniel Kawka  and Orchestre Symphonique Ose!  will debut Manifesto at the Archipel festival in Geneva on the 26th. These are all honors, to be sure - but perhaps what makes me most happy is just the sensation, and the experience, of returning to Italy and feeling that, finally, I am here to stay. Just for this long moment.


> friday > 3 March 2017 > Oxford, UK


February is the shortest month of course, but even that minor difference of two-three days can’t possibly account for the fact that it passed so quickly this year. This time next week I will be packing for my fellowship in Bogliasco, Italy and will spend the majority of those five weeks in that idyllic Ligurian artistic sphere, “widely considered one of the best residency programs in the world”, with the short but all-too-important week off to visit Lyon and Geneva for the Swiss premiere of Manifesto. Those weeks will see not only the planning of the forthcoming opera project but the beginning of a new project for Ensemble YXUS co-commissioned with the European Union’s Trauma&Revival residency, which will include its own residency, of sorts, in Riga, Latvia in the summer.


So, there is surely a lot to look forward to.


And looking back, as well. Though the weeks have passed so quickly in England, they have not been for nothing. I have challenged myself to create new piano music I can genuinely stand behind, an increasingly more daunting task these days as I do not at all compose “behind the keys” and think almost entirely away from conventional intonation and notation. Yet the D Major Preludes, finally coming to life as a significant set of short works, is proof, mostly to myself, that there is a reason to force oneself to not leave well enough alone, and to demand more. I think those short pieces, written for a dear friend and pianist I admire very much, Asia Ahmetjanova, should and could rank with my very best work.


> sunday > 19 February 2017 > Oxford, UK


When it rains, it pours - and I remember leaving California in January after the wettest, most rainy weeks I can ever remember, and from here in Great Britain, I am still reading about how the so-called “drought” in my home state might, just possibly might, be over. Music is not so different. We go through quiet stages, and then - like this past autumn - there are immeasurably busy periods when every week there is something, and once in a while, two somethings in the same day. And I would wager that most of the concept of a drought is in one’s head only; no wonder all around the world people dance for rain. Things happen when you start moving.


One of the things I have been dancing for is one final go for Manifesto. Winding back the clock, the piece was commissioned for and premiered by the London Philharmonic, an ensemble with an incredible name, reputation, and concert hall but then, the performance left so much to be desired (namely, some correct notes that were on the page all along) that I sought a new home for it right away. Fortuitously, that home was the Minnesota Orchestra in the winter of 2015 as part of the Composer Institute. And the august Symphony did more than justice to the piece. The masterful Osmo Vänskä brought it to life as I imagined. But then, the American music scene being what it is, particularly in the orchestral world, I longed for an occasion to present the piece where it wouldn’t be written off as “disquieting” or a “tough nut to crack”, but perhaps, hopefully, appreciated.


March 26th at the Archipel Festival in Geneva might be the piece’s final reckoning. That’s when the Orchestre Philharmonique Ose! will present the piece in conjunction with the Academie Archipel Ose! and one of my musical heroes, Kaija Saariaho, conducted by Daniel Kawka at the Alhambra (Geneva’s, not the more southerly one). Will it be the final, ideal moment for the piece? If not, then there’s only myself left to blame!


> tuesday > 7 February 2017 > Oxford, UK


I have been purposely rather quiet about upcoming projects and concerts so as not to disturb the natural order of events. It has been proven again and again to me that premature celebration is often met with disappointment, whereas biding one’s time is generally rewarded with results that go even beyond what one has been promised. In certain cases - I am remembering the now-famous Latvian Radio Choir incident from last year around this time - even things that seem surely rarely are.


And yet much is happening. La Bottega Musicale will present my Stabat Mater across Italy this coming spring and summer; a new piece for YXUS and a new opera for Theatrum with YXUS players, and Iris Oja and Marius Peterson in lead roles, is in the works as well (I will take up my Bogliasco fellowship in mid-March to begin work on this very project). There are more performances of my String Quartet planned for the spring in the US with PUBLIQuartet and perhaps elsewhere. And I am finally staring down completion of a project that has really taken up far more time and spirit than ever originally planed - the D Major Preludes are not far off completion!


All of which is a long way of saying, there is much to come in the next months.


> thursday > 26 January 2017 > Tallinn, Estonia


Copious time has recently materialized that has allowed me to reflect on past years’ projects and focus on what must be done for the new; one reason is travel, as usual, of course. I have spent the first part of this week in Porto, Portugal, visiting my most beloved of collaborators, Iris Oja, and meeting the incredible people inside the Casa da Musica - the huge, extraterrestrial-looking structure that happens to be one of the most important concert halls in Europe. And being in that milieu, and here in Estonia as well, is an important reminder that the music world is both very small (an old friend Alexandre Santos runs the Symphony Orchestra there) and very large and full of possibility indeed.


In the course of filling out the D Major Preludes piece, I forced myself to go back and effectively re-think movements two and three. The reason? They were too literal of interpretations of the original material. Is it enough simply to comment on the past without creating something of value that unabashedly points to the future, too? The John Borstlaps of the world may believe it must be so. But for me this would be an unacceptable, lazy excuse for the music in general. It must be more. It will be more.


Several major projects loom ahead: an expansion of the Violin Concerto, a new song cycle for Ensemble YXUS, and something very major indeed in the near future (the clue might be in the Bogliasco Foundation residency). But for the moment, finding myself in the miniatures of the D Major Preludes, I find that my job is perhaps hardest of all.


> saturday > 14 January 2017 > Oxford, UK


It hadn’t really felt like 2017 had started until I boarded yet another United flight for London-Heathrow. I never intended to make a future in England, but circumstances - and good fortune - changed. Being granted a 5.5-year “Exceptional Talent” visa last year was a kind of crown on my years at Oxford, and considering the reality of possibly living with minimal welcome or support from the music community elsewhere, the termly flight to England seems feels edifying. It is one I am grateful to board.


All this is of course in the context of a period of immense transformation in my music. I am taking more time and I am frequently going back to what I have written and picking up the threads that I had abandoned, whether out of concern for deadlines, or, as in one specific case, because I didn’t feel I had the capability, mostly technical, to write the movement I wanted to write. Now I can. Somewhat hubristically, I feel I can do and write anything. State of the Union proved that it is all possible.


And speaking of State of the Union, I received from the fantastic recording engineer Markku Veijonsuo what I’d call version 2.0 of the recording track from last autumn’s recording of the piece with the Helsinki Chamber Choir in advance of the release of my portrait CD later this year. Forced to listen to State of the Union beginning to end for the first time since its last performance, it was both torturous and intensely rewarding. The choir’s performance cannot be put into words; neither can the conductor’s, Nils Schweckendiek’s, and how he brought the piece to life when it was very much on its death-throes.


> monday > 2 January 2017 > Oakland, CA, USA


Over a year ago, I was asked by composer David Conte, whose mentorship and support have been “instrumental” for my career, to write a short Prelude on the basis of one of the Chopins for his sixtieth birthday - a concert held in November2015. The resulting, very short piece, was dealt, let’s say, not a very positive hand at the hands of pianist Scott Foglesong. Though I was not in attendance the night of its premiere, a later video recording showed it was one of the worst of my life. But even at that point, I had hoped to write more pieces to complete the set. After all, is thirty seconds of music programmable? So, the set, titled D Major Preludes, would comprise a Chopin, a Scriabin, a Shostakovich, a Rachmaninov, and the final one - an “original” one of my own. And even the preceding ones sound little like their namesakes. They are my re-interpretations, much like my Erlkönig of 2014 sounds nothing (and everything) like the original as well.


So the turn of the year has seen me working on those as I get ready to commence on some very large projects. Later in the winter and early spring, I will join the Bogliasco Foundation as a Fellow in one of the most incomparably beautiful (of many incomparably beautiful) parts of Italy, Liguria, for a 5-week-long residency to work an upcoming full-length opera commission. And there will be more orchestral music in 2017 as well!


The next time this update rolls around, I will likely be back in the UK - but starting the year lightly, surrounded by loved ones, and in a major key, hopefully bodes well for this exciting time.


> wednesday > 21 December 2016 > Oakland, CA, USA


The longest night of the year stands diametrically opposed to the longest day; the further north or south one goes, the greater difference that distinction makes. On that latter day, I was in Tallinn, Estonia where the sun does not fully set on Midsummer’s Day, something that part of the world calls “White Nights”, while here in California, the former, longest night, passes uneventfully. In this way, the seasons are more unnoticeable; they transform irregularly. It is not unusual to have a day of warmth and sunshine as today has been followed or preceded immediately by unbearably chilly or rainy, dark ones. The year begins to blur; the only constants are the two extremes, the two solstices.


My last update for this year looks neither forward nor into the past (as others have done), but internally. After all, meaning and music cannot just be found out there, or appropriated for the purposes of rationalizing something that is otherwise unworthy. Looking in, one cannot lie. This year I spent a great deal of time writing choral music, almost to the exclusivity of everything else. I will begin 2017 with far simpler things before moving on from choral music altogether. At this present moment, I have said all I can say. In the new year, and in future ones, I will perhaps return and say more.


I also realized, in experiencing both huge doubts about the viability of the things I write and equally (if not unprecedented) relief and validation in the things I write coming to life exactly as intended, that doubt is actually far more external than internal. It comes from those people and things that have, in fact, more doubt themselves in what or who they are. I certainly learned that in a big way this year by - rightfully, I believe - condemning those who have doubted me to my own personal dustbin of history. In this sense, progress is not directional but personal and internal, too. I enter a new year by knowing more about myself and by being more myself. I believe that that must bode well for the music of 2017, too.


> friday > 9 December 2016 > Oakland, CA, USA


The final week in England went by like a flash - returning from Ireland, it seemed like the next day I was already off to Heathrow, and then, home. Though I had hoped to still finish the final edits to Lamentations prior to its inclusion on my upcoming portrait CD with the Helsinki Chamber Choir still on the other side of the Atlantic, it took until yesterday morning for the final touches to the third movement to finally be applied. And then, like another flash, the piece was once again complete. And its world premiere next year, in conjunction with its recording, will be a special capstone on the very busy four years I have fortunately spent writing music for the best choirs in the world.


These calm few days have allowed me to begin mapping out the next year in commissions, residencies, and new projects. In March, I look forward to coming to the Italian Riviera as a fellow of the Bogliasco Foundation on a project I hope to announce soon. Increasingly, I am turning to bigger, more meaningful projects. Increasingly, I am also looking back to look forward.


The final new recording of the year comes from the recent UK premiere of Come tu non sapessi, che l’amore è un respiro lievitato at the Sage Gateshead with the Royal Northern Sinfonia. The inspired performance, with the brilliant conductor Hugh Brunt bearing much responsibility, really does justice to the music. The “Listen” page has been updated accordingly. And finally, to briefly return to One Sun, 1 Moon, my dear friend and most loyal collaborator Scott Diel wrote a fantastic article summarizing the whole story of the piece and its Guido de Flaviis recording for the British Music Collection. It’s not just worth a read; it’s worth framing.


> sunday > 27 November 2016 > Oxford, UK


There was time for one more concert in 2016, and that was the Royal Northern Sinfonia at the Sage Gateshead this past Thursday performing my recently completed (originally for Avanti! but here slightly re-orchestrated) Come tu non sapessi, che l’amore è un respiro lievitato. The differences were insignificant in practical scope but quite clear in performance: swapping out harp and trombone for timpani and trumpet, and adding a twice-larger string section, means the piece breathes in a more dramatic fashion. And with slightly more rehearsal time - even if occasionally less open-minded ensemble members - the overall impression, masterfully led by conductor Hugh Brunt, was one I felt really lucky to have experienced.


In general, the experience of having visited Newcastle, a dazzling city in the north of England, and met with the external examiner for my D.Phil thesis and now-gracious friend Agustín Fernandez was one I cherish. Having made Oxford my effective home in England for the past four years, I actually didn’t imagine there were vibrant, interesting places left around England other than London (which has always been foreign and rather distant from me), but Newcastle was not only that, it was a revelation. If only, as I hear, the city had a new music scene (and institutional interest from the major performance venues) to match its otherwise exceptional character, it would be the ideal spot.


And of course, something I’ve been waiting for for weeks: the (video) recording of the Oxford Philharmonic with Maxim Vengerov and Marios Papadopoulos, below. As I prepare to return to California at the end of the week, it is perhaps fitting to close out my stay in the UK with the year’s most proud achievement:























The Oxford Philharmonic’s video of the November 10th performance of my Violin Concerto at the Sheldonian Theatre with Maxim Vengerov, soloist, Marios Papadopoulos, conductor, and the Oxford Philharmonic. Video (c) Oxford Phiharmonic Orchestra.


> tuesday > 15 November 2016 > Oxford, UK


Nothing short of magnificent - this was some way, some way of many, that I could describe what it was to sit in the Sheldonian and hear one of the world’s great soloists perform my Violin Concerto for a packed house with the brilliant Marios Papadopoulos and the Oxford Philharmonic. That soloist was of course Maxim Vengerov. Surrounded by my family and closest friends and loved ones, it was a night I can never get forget.


Maxim Vengerov, the Oxford Philharmonic, and a very grateful me at the Sheldonian. Missing from this photo: conductor Marios Papadopoulos, allowing us a short moment to bask in the glory of the premiere. Photo (c) MH Group.


After a period of concentrating so much on vocal - “programmatic” - music, it is particularly rewarding to visit the other side of the profession and work with orchestras. The experience is entirely different: faster, perhaps more instantly gratifying, and nothing can match the magic of working with an orchestra (though the Helsinki Chamber Choir makes a completely convincing argument to the contrary!) So next week I will be off to Newcastle, UK for the “Mozarts of Tomorrow” workshop with the Royal Northern Sinfonia at the spectacular Sage Gateshead to feel even more fortunate. Royal Northern Sinfonia is one of the UK’s very best chamber orchestras, and the piece, Come tu non sapessi che l’amore e un respiro lievitato, can certainly only benefit from such an auspicious UK premiere!


It is an unbelievable realization that the year is coming to an end; it feels it has barely started. The year has seen the completion of major projects (State of the Union, Lamentations) and the beginning of major others (my portrait CD with the Helsinki Chamber Choir, the forthcoming expansion of my Violin Concerto). Nevertheless, I pray for time to slow down just a little bit, after all...the speed of the music itself cannot continue to keep up otherwise.


> friday > 4 November 2016 > Tallinn, Estonia


I am now back in Tallinn for the first time since the summer, but somehow it feels far more distant than that. Perhaps it was the way it happened - flying to Helsinki and traveling to Järvenpää and Markko Veijonsuo’s studio for the commercial recording of State of the Union with Nils Schweckendiek, the Helsinki Chamber Choir, part one of my portrait CD with this extraordinary ensemble. And after 6.5 hours of intense, focused, inspired singing by the choir, we have the makings of a fantastic recording. Particularly rewarding were the moments where we still found more in the score that, due mostly to optimistic scoring by the composer, and could finally have those moments come out because we finally had the space to do so. It was a tremendously special experience and one that will continue in 2017 as we continue with a recording of the full Lamentations.


With the Helsinki Chamber Choir, conductor Nils Schweckendiek, and recording engineer Markko Veijonsuo. Photo (c) MH Group.


The next stop was visiting my family in St Petersburg, this time staying for the full visa-free rule-allowed seventy-two hours, and during those, the city transformed from a gray, dregs-of-autumn urban center to a veritable winter wonderland. We saw Il Viaggio a Reims at the Mariinsky, the Hermitage’s new modern art wing (with a fantastic Jan Fabre exhibit), and toured (for brief moments in the cold) the snow-filled sidewalks abutting the city’s canals. It was a beautiful, family-filled three days and a period during which my recollections and affection for the country where I spent my first six years and in which I was effectively born only increased.


Now, in Tallinn, and about to fly to return to the UK for the performance of my Violin Concerto with Maxim Vengerov, Marios Papadopoulos, and the Oxford Philharmonic, I am also excited to mention PUBLIQuartet’s performance of my String Quartet at the Cloisters of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York - a place I have still yet to visit and one that is completely at the top of my list. Knowing that the beautiful walls of the Fuentidueña Chapel will also be the setting for my music tomorrow, November 5th, is an honor and one I owe entirely to this amazing quartet.


> monday > 24 October 2016 > Oxford, UK


Looking forward - winter still feels some way off in Oxford, but November is fast approaching, as is my trip back to Finland for the first recording session of an upcoming portrait CD with the Helsinki Chamber Choir. And soon after that, two performances by PUBLIQuartet, the same immensely talented, enterprising group that accompanied the third Presidential debate, in Bethesda, MD and at the beautiful Cloisters in New York, NY. The latter is part of their residency with the Metropolitan Museum of Art. And, of course, walking around Oxford in the early evening, I passed by this:


Spotted next to the Sheldonian in Oxford, UK - and elsewhere, apparently!


The public world premiere of my Violin Concerto with Maxim Vengerov, Marios Papadopoulos, and the Oxford Philharmonic is still several weeks away, but the absolute reality of having one of the world’s greatest violinists performing my music is probably only hitting me now. And I dare say that I think my Violin Concerto will stand up even to the great Beethoven in comparison!


These updates have been bereft of news regarding any new projects in the sense that I actually haven’t written any new music in several months. That’s changing now as I return to Lamentations to update and revise the outer movements for the public premiere of the entire piece (it will be heard as one for the very first time) next year in Mechelen, Belgium.


> friday > 14 October 2016 > Oxford, UK


Six performances of State of the Union over the course of a little over a week was about as intense a performance schedule as I could ever imagine and plan. It is hopefully only the beginning for this work, for my magnum opus, but it is worth returning to the otherwise innocuous fact that this piece almost didn’t happen at all. After being unceremoniously dropped in January of this year by Kaspars Putnins, it was only through the, frankly, unbelievable will of the DeVos Art Museum at Northern Michigan University - Melissa Matuscak, in particular - and the Rabbit Island Foundation, whose executive directors also graciously served as our tour bus drivers, that the concerts happened in the first place. And, of course, there was the choir in the first place and its conductor Nils Schweckendiek, who has truly given meaning and definition to the word, indefatigable. The recording and video are now available and the commercial recording will be the next step, later this month.


Top panel, left to right: Rob Gorski (President, Rabbit Island foundation), Scott Diel (librettist), Andrew Ranville (Executive Director, Rabbit Island Foundation), and me, at the first US rehearsal of State of the Union. Middle panel: The choir and I at the first rehearsal. Bottom panel: Nils Schweckendiek leading the choir in a workshop with the Northern Michigan University choir. Photo (c) DeVos Art Museum


The piece did happen. But it didn’t just happen. It triumphed in the hands and voices of the Helsinki Chamber Choir. I could not have imagined better. In fact, I could not even have imagined for the piece to be what it became, thanks to this incredible choir and its incredible artistic director. To them, to all of the people who made State of the Union, and I must not forget, here, Scott Diel, who wrote the marvelous libretto - this was truly a project I am proud to have been a part of, and a piece I am immensely proud to have written. In the end, it was not even “experimental and unusual writing”. It was, in the words of a Pulitzer-prize winning composer I admire deeply, “rich in ideas and invention” - which is what I always meant it to be.


Over the course of those weeks, I found new confidence as a composer. The experience was career-affirming, in the sense that the music I write down is exactly what I hear and imagine. It is worth it to never stop imagining and to never give up. One cannot do that alone: one needs the very best in musicians, supporters, friends, family, and partner. I have all, and now the world has State of the Union.


> monday > 19 September 2016 > Oakland, CA, USA


The calm before the storm? Next Monday I’m on my way to Marquette, Michigan for the premiere of State of the Union with the Helsinki Chamber Choir. Then it’s Interlochen, Houghton, Sault Ste Marie, and ultimately New York City for its final presentation in the United States at Trinity Wall Street. It’s a big, intense round of performances for a big, intense piece, almost 40 minutes in all, testing the range, breadth, and skill of every single choir member. And of course, I am truly grateful that a choir and conductor have been brave enough to take the piece on - thank you Nils and Helsinki Chamber Choir!


The piece has received some preview coverage already and a micro site has gone up on the Rabbit Island webpage which will soon be populated with a wealth of material. There are already the Helsinki Chamber Choir’s announcement and brochure. I will post interviews, reviews, and photos of the tour as they come right here.


It is an immensely exciting time for me and one that has come despite some “reality checks” in other spheres of music life. One has to believe in the integrity of one’s voice - and sing louder.


> monday > 29 August 2016 > Oakland, CA, USA


Common wisdom is that summer is ending - indeed, we are almost in the last third of the year, just days away, yet by the looks of things in California, it is nowhere near a change in seasons. I have kept away from writing music. My last composition, Come tu non sapessi, che l’amore è un respiro lievitato, was finished in May and I have put no new notes on paper since. Is this a good thing? In any case, it brings fresh, remarkable things to my ears and countless new ideas for music. I am anything but burnt out.


But in other ways, summer has ended already. I am preparing for the Helsinki Chamber Choir’s US tour which contains six performances of State of the Union plus the work’s commercial recording later in October. I am not the only one preparing: previews have gone up from various venues, including the Interlochen Center for the Arts naming it the “highlight of the...season.” Later on, Maxim Vengerov’s performance of my Violin Concerto at Oxford’s Sheldonian Theatre with the Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra must surely be the highlight of any of my seasons.


It is almost premature to discuss future projects, but there are many. What matters most for me is not the quantity of the work or even international breadth of performances, but the quality of the conductors and musicians involved. To work with those who don’t say that a piece is too experimental or unusual, but with those who crave it and encourage me to go further - that is what will define the new music I’ll begin writing this autumn, and for many seasons to come.


> tuesday > 9 August 2016 > Oakland, CA, USA


This update is full of news: the recording of Come tu non sapessi, che l’amore è un respiro lievitato, with thanks to composer colleague Tuomas Kettunen, is up on the “Listen” page. The performance by the Avanti! Chamber Orchestra is sublime, particularly thanks to the direction of Andres Kaljuste.


The performance list of the Helsinki Chamber Choir’s US tour and the world premiere of the full State of the Union (clocking in slightly shorter than the insipid speeches Americans are subjected to by our Executive branch) are now on the “Calendar” page, and are gradually making the news cycles in the Upper Peninsula and soon in New York.


And finally - Nostra Culpa continues to have a presence despite the fact that most musicologists and so-called music critics continue to deny its existence. No matter: history has already enshrined it in a number of cases and even several tomes. Witness this: a Steve Forbes book from last year that references Nostra Culpa as a pillar for his otherwise arguable (but interesting!) case for the flat tax. Whenever it comes to politics, I’ll stay out. But I will appreciate the shout-out, definitely.


Nostra Culpa: more than a footnote in (music) history.