> sunday > 17 September 2017 > Hong Kong, HKSAR


My first impressions here, two weeks ago, less than one hundred hours with my feet not-so-firmly on the ground here, saw things in black and white. They were so. But two weeks later, there are shades, gradations, beautiful sunsets, hazy smoggy afternoons, and, now, this late afternoon, a pale yellow sky that, if one were to remove the few high-rises on Castle Peak Road and leave only the lush tropical vegetation, the fairy-tale mountains, it would seem that I am nowhere familiar at all. And this lack of familiarity, so far of course extending to the language and to the culture, too, is invigorating. Hong Kong may have a colonial past but it is inevitably where it is, its people are invariably who they are. Not even one thousand years of British rule, no matter how much good order and prosperity it has brought to this small but very large place, could change that. And that’s a good thing too. The past is always - thankfully - the past.


In many ways I have loved it here, loved meeting my colleagues at HKBU, also loved meeting composers and people in the music world who have extended their welcome, their open arms, to me as if I am, like them, a Hong-Konger. I am not of course, but this is also not the place I imagined it would be or that I was told it would be. It is not a cold, quid pro quo financial center where arts and culture move as quickly - as efficiently, as coldly - as the rest. Perhaps these are the momentary pangs of idealism. Perhaps, they, too, will subside. But there is a texture to the air, to the water, to the soil, to the food, to everything, that suggests a kind of complexity that cannot be cynically explained away.


At moments, quite often, I was either directly asked or thought myself about what my future might be in a place like this. Personally I can’t see myself here forever or even very long, aside from the fact that my mission for HKBU is clear and I will carry it out as a way to recognize, also, the chance they took on me, a chance many would have been unwilling to take. And for that, and thanks to them, Hong Kong is my home - with all its gradations and complexities.


> sunday > 3 September 2017 > Hong Kong, HKSAR


There was complete and utter white before there was the dark. A white that was not so clear and bright as much as it was all-encompassing, almost oppressive, but the darkness below that symbolized something also different from what one presupposes - it was a genuine, open, honest darkness. And it rained. It rained so much. The lightning strikes numbered in the triple digits in the thirty or so minutes my flight waited on the tarmac, our landing first being abandoned at the last minute and later, having circled what seemed to have been the entirety of the Pearl River Delta, the pilot somehow - miraculously - made it stick.


It feels no less than a miracle to be here. The second night of my stay here, I walked the solitary back streets of Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon, as the no-longer-so oppressive heat and humidity led to light rain drops and the dark, air-conditioned-filled alleys of this most quintessential of Hong Kong neighborhoods took on the appearance of what a friend rightly calls, a Blade Runner set. It still hasn’t hit me that I live in Asia. Will it ever? Hong Kong still keeps a toe, or more, in its colonial past, the same past that also has guaranteed it a bright future. For when China’s seemingly unstoppable progress finally runs into the great walls of totalitarianism and corruption, Hong Kong will still be standing here - and will still be relevant.


For the next few weeks, I will take off the role of composer and became a Professor in earnest. But there is so much work in music on the horizon, not least of which is the upcoming commission for the Philharmonia Orchestra that came with my Royal Philharmonic Society Composition Prize. That will be the first of many works written in, perhaps even inspired by, this special place. And Pensées should have its premiere with YXUS Ensemble sooner than I imagined, as early as the end of this year! If so, then may even the darkness hear, powerful in its truth, guide me forward to this and much more.


> sunday > 20 August 2017 > Oakland, CA, USA


This really is the last of something - of many things.


It is the last of Pensées, which I finished last week, all thirty-seven minutes of it. It is my second-longest composition and a completely different beast to State of the Union, but there is one way in which it is totally similar, in my mind at least: it is completely crazy. And this time, unlike the problematic path State of the Union had to its premiere before being brought to life by the incredibly capable of hands of Nils Schweckendiek, the ensemble that will premiere Pensées, namely YXUS and Iris Oja, is one that has no chance of whimpering away, daunted by the extremes of the piece.


It is the last of my free days as a composer, so to speak - from next week on, I will be attached to Hong Kong Baptist University and, in a slightly stronger sense than before, to the University of Oxford as well. The Hong Kong job is one for which I’m immensely excited. And as I start my yearly residency with the Philharmonia Orchestra as a winner of the Royal Philharmonic Society Composition Prize, I intend very much to represent both institutions in the strongest way possible.


Incidentally, it is not the last (nor the first) appearance of Manifesto on Radio Télévision Suisse - the recording of the Orchestre symphonique Ose! performance of the piece in Geneva earlier this year continues to appear on the RTS program, Musique d’Avenir. Perhaps it has still more life left in it?


> thursday > 10 August 2017 > Oakland, CA, USA


Half of 2017 has passed, and like all the years before, the rest will pass even faster. I can hardly keep up. But there is hopefully something to show for all the days and having that record of some achievement is a minor consolation. Currently, it’s how close I am to finishing Pensées, which is now very much in sight. And the piece is starting to take shape as a very unique project. If it can actually come off is another question but I wouldn’t trust anyone more than Ensemble YXUS and Iris Oja to carry it off.


At the same time, August seems impossibly long as does my departure to Hong Kong at the end of the month, the beginning of a completely new chapter in my life, and hopefully also one in my music as well. The autumn in general looks to be an impossibly busy time filled with recording sessions, the premiere of the full version of Lamentations with the Helsinki Chamber Choir in October (the piece had previously been performed only in parts with the Eric Ericsons Kammarkör and at the ill-fated Rautavaara Competition last year with the Helsinki Chamber Choir singing the middle movement). There will be more too. It’s only a question of how the Asian chapter of my career will go and what will my relation be with the “Western” world which will now be literally a world away.


And that’s where I am tonight on the not-yet-eve of my departure. As movement thirteen of Pensées, “Invocation,” takes shape, it brings an ending and a beginning to a piece and a chapter that has been one of my most exciting yet.


> monday > 31 July 2017 > Oakland, CA, USA


In looking back on the last update, there were a number of things I forgot to mention, and a couple of things I had simply been waiting on. This confusion is sort of a blessing, too, after all, the conceivable ability to remember everything might also mean that there isn’t much to remember in the first place. Well, the big one that slipped my mind is that I won the Royal Philharmonic Society Composition Prize, an achievement I think I have the right to pat myself on the back about - there is a cash prize tied to a commission for the world-class Philharmonia Orchestra. And in case this project actually comes with adequate rehearsal time, I think it will be a huge success.


Of the category of objects-in-waiting, there is finally the exceptional recording of Hiroshima from the Klaaspärlimäng Festival; now, there is only the video that’s missing, but as I am told, it should not be long until that, too, is ready. While the piece does not directly require video and is not overtly visual, there is a special drama in the course of the whole six-composer project that the finale, my finale, is one where the spoken and sung word emerges as a presence. It is a surprise, and, fortuitously, an effective one.


Evening in Vilnius at the slightly ramshackle Franciscan Church, in a city and a nation that have otherwise recovered increasingly strongly from the Soviet era.


Some days ago I returned to California for my final ‘tour’ here before heading off to Hong Kong at the end of the month. The goals are to finish Pensées and begin to think about the Philharmonia work - and also the plan for Russia Today as well. The experience of being in the Baltics in July grows stronger with time now that I am no longer there, particularly the experience of living in Riga, as a citizen, as a local and somewhat a stranger too. When will I have such a chance again? The ephemeral nature of that time, the closing of that chapter in my life, is keenly felt. But so are the apprehension and excitement of continuing my life in a new world and a new place from next month on.


> friday > 21 July 2017 > Riga, Latvia


I had hoped to begin this post by sharing the recording of the recently premiered Hiroshima from the Klaaspärlimäng Festival and the fact that it’s not ready yet is tempered only by the fact that it the performance was so exceptionally good. I didn’t expect that, having not attended any rehearsals due to my kim? Contemporary Arts Centre residency here in Riga, the orchestra, the conductor, and my two long-time friends, Tarmo Johannes and Iris Oja, who performed the vocal effects, would capture the piece so entirely and creatively. Perhaps it is all those years living in England and battling orchestras at every step that has formed a bit of hard cynicism, but I am also aware of the traps I put myself in. But leave it to the very fine musicians of that ensemble to prove entirely otherwise. It was a brilliant performance.


Fine, also, when it came to this past week’s workshop with Scott Diel on our upcoming project with EXAUDI titled Russia Today. The scale of the audience (more than we expected), and the lovely press the event received from the Latvian National Radio by Mike Collier, still paled next to the response from the participants, many of whom spent over fifteen minutes in the recording studio sharing their thoughts, fears, hopes, and recollections about their, and the Latvian nation’s, experience with Russia.


Left: Presentation of “Russia Today” at kim? Contemporary Arts Centre, Riga, Latvia. Photo (c) Dorian Batycka.


My residency in Riga is drawing to a close. It has not been all positive but the experience of living in a milieu in which I do not normally find myself, and living in Riga in general, has been remarkable, not least of which is thanks to my dear friend Edgars Raginskis, an accomplished composer himself, and something of a TV and radio star in the country. Perhaps it is also because I have so much history here, and yet feel entirely alienated from the music scene, that it is and was important to come.


> friday > 30 June 2017 > London, UK


When I first decided to leave New York - and, hence, much of the United States - behind in 2010, I had few ideas about where I should end up. It was more about leaving the toxic environment of the Juilliard Composition Department behind, or if not that, at least, about leaving behind something which was stifling and perhaps even internal. So I set out to Estonia, made what, I guess, was a name for myself there, and somehow wound up at the University of Oxford where I met my partner, got my doctorate, and have made a start - a stab, as they might say here - at a career in the very competitive UK music scene. Where I ever expected to go from there, if anywhere else, was never really a question I demanded myself to ask - too frightening, almost. Too final.


But I have also found that when one moves on, it is hardly the case that one leaves a place entirely behind. Despite not maintaining any kind of genuine residence in Estonia post-2012, I have continued to work and have projects there and in the region. Witness the upcoming premiere of my ballet Hiroshima on July 10th in Tartu, Estonia or the upcoming workshop and first phase of my fifth project with Scott Diel, Russia Today, which will take place on July 18th in Riga, Latvia. One can leave and one can leave finally, or one can simply open a new door in one’s life without closing any others.


With that I’m exceptionally proud to announce that I’ll be opening a new door in Hong Kong from this coming September, starting a very unique Research Professor position at the Hong Kong Baptist University. It is a move I never expected to make, but like Estonia, like London, it is an important step towards the next step, an incredible opportunity to join a vibrant culture and a vibrant community. Academia is a place I never expected to go, and this doesn’t feel like that at all. Rather, it is a very generous shot at expanding my imagination as a composer, and quite beyond that as well. It is a door that brings in a particular amount of light into where I am. And certainly I will not be abandoning London in any way; there is even more to announce on that front soon.


> saturday > 10 June 2017 > Oakland, CA, USA


It was slightly unexpected, slightly last-minute, and slightly exhausting but the trip back home, with a short yet memorable, beautiful interlude in Mexico City, was one that I wholly consider a blessing. My return, of course, predicates a trip back to London at the end of the month, and then to Tallinn, Riga (for the Trauma & Revival residency at the kim? Contemporary Arts Centre), and Tartu for the Klaaspärlimäng Festival premiere of Hiroshima. There is, also, a yet-to-be-announced fifth project with Scott Diel, that we intend to debut in Riga in July but more about that soon. The next following weeks will be about the truly meaningful things, the people closest to me - and also continuing work on Pensées.


Mexico City: the view from 3809 at the Hyatt Regency.


Well, there is also a huge piece of news I am still “embargo”-ing for the sake of having it confirmed once and for all. But the gist of it is that I look forward to leaving behind certain systems which exist only to perpetuate what I must candidly admit is a sort of sad mediocrity, a stasis in which the only thing that changes is the staff turnover in HR and application processing. This reminds me of the couple of instances I spent applying for the “big” grants in the UK only to be turned back because of procedural matters or, even worse, a supposed threat I might pose to the irrelevance of an institution. In that sense, I feel lucky to have gone to Oxford, where the opportunities I got, and the respect I received from the Faculty, was one that I probably didn’t even necessarily deserve, but one I hopefully paid back - or will pay back - in earnest.


Having been home just these few days, surveying past, present, and future, there is no place or moment that feels wasted or unaccounted for. As an old friend and I discussed from the fortieth floor of the Hyatt in Mexico City, there is no opportunity - truly - that one does not make oneself.


> friday > 26 May 2017 > Oxford, UK


This post is all about Moscow.


It has been twenty-three years since I set foot in a place where I spent, essentially, the first six years of my life. Not to say that Moscow is familiar, that Moscow is home. But once, it was. Once, I lived in Khovrino on the outskirts of Moscow, and once, even earlier, I lived in the city center in a building that is - controversially - slated to be torn down later this year. Once, I started playing violin and composing - all in Moscow. Once, I studied with Natalya Fichtenholtz who - almost! - made me into a solo violinist, had she had more time. But in 1994, we left, never expecting to return. This May, thanks to many many people with bigger ideas than mine, I was invited to return to Moscow, in an official capacity, on an official mission, even with an official government-issued invitation.




















Promotional video made for the Trauma&Revival program in Moscow by filmmaker Alina Platonova. (c) Alina Platonova


To be in Moscow in such a way and at such a time made this one of the most memorable trips of my life. It was not in walking any familiar streets, or even a midnight rush to dessert next to the Moscow Conservatory with famed Russian filmmaker Alexander Zeldovich, that made it so memorable as much as it was the more intangible, unexplainable connection to a place from where one’s first memories have come. As I wrote to a dear friend - it is so important to be in touch with where (and from whom) one comes from. Being in Moscow during that time, and not simply being but actively being, provided an important link where one had been missing for many many many years.


> thursday > 11 May 2017 > Oxford, UK


Considering my twenties are running out later this year, it has been an unavoidable side effect that the pace of everything has quickened. At times, it has allowed me to skip from project to project, concert to concert, in one country or another, almost forgetting the fact that one week I may hear a piece I had just written done as a premiere, and another - a piece that has sat idle for years receiving a new lease on life. The positive side of this is of course that I have gotten to hear, and live, my music side by side, allowing me to escape from a responsibility to only create and push the new, to forget the path I have taken up to this point (musically and otherwise), and, as a result, to skip from things in a sustainable way. Past music must inform the future. And the past should always live with the future side by side.


So it is realizing that the news of me winning the ASCAP Morton Young Gould Composer Award for the second time, and not since age fifteen, for one of my most recent pieces, that I began to see it in the context of the first one, which I received for what I’d say is my first decent, “mature” piece - the First Violin Sonata. This year, I was recognized for State of the Union, a piece certainly as ambitious, brave, and uncompromising as that first piece was for me as a teenager. And as the ASCAP awards book-end my life as a student, in a way, it also reminds me that eventually I will not be so much as a young composer but a composer without qualifiers. Past, present, and future will have no distinction.


Looking to the next weeks, I will be in Moscow from Tuesday on, a very exciting visit to what is essentially my hometown, as part of the Trauma & Revival program sponsored by the European Union National Institutes for Culture and kim? Contemporary Arts Centre in Riga, Latvia (where I will be Composer-in-Residence in July). At the same time, a genuinely brilliant conductor and dear friend Dario Ribechi will present Stabat Mater at the Cattedrale di San Martino in Lucca, Italy with his choir, La Bottega Musicale, and the voci bianchi della Cappella S. Cecilia di Lucca, on the 20th of May. But perhaps the biggest news of all...I’ll have to wait to speak about that. But suffice to say that in a few months’ time, these updates will be coming from a completely new side of the globe.


> 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.