> monday > 8 January 2018 > Oakland, CA, USA


The past two weeks have been the most productive in years: Adagio is finished. It is a complex, ambitious piece, but those adjectives are really in service of an outward simplicity and languor, in the sense that to create a world that moves, speaks, and breathes slowly, the mechanism to do so is unusually difficult. So the piece took a rather torturous road - I wrote it mostly in Hong Kong, but also partly in mainland China, at one point even doing so from the mountains in rural Longsheng county in Guangxi province. But I managed to finish it just before the New Year back home in California, a genuine goal that I gave myself no room to miss.


And then the next piece, a commission by Bard Music West, a festival in San Francisco in which, this spring, I will be Composer-in-Residence, has come rapidly and fluently, almost the opposite of Adagio: almost uncontrolled, abrupt instead of organic, rhythmic but also entirely free. In fact, that latter part, the freedom of the writing presents a worrying situation for choreographing the piece that will prove to be perhaps the most interesting experiment of the whole project, in which I am partnering with choreographer James Sofranko and NY-based ensemble Third Sound.


Hong Kong next week. I have been looking jealously at the weather forecast for the first time, comparing the rain storms that have now finally started to hit the Bay Area to the balmy winter weather in the Pearl River Delta. I remember the first few evenings, strolling around Tin Shui Wai in mid-October, when one could feel the first hint of autumn and cooler temperatures. It was ephemeral; the humid heat returned. But now it looks to be an ever-enticing destination and I really look forward to being back at HKBU for another semester with the great students there.


> friday > 22 December 2017 > Oakland, CA, USA


2017 ended with a performance of State of the Union at the Musiikkitalo in Helsinki, Finland. It began with receiving the first cut of the commercial recording of the same piece. Besides the obvious (or for whom it’s not so obvious - the move to Hong Kong), it was a big year in many other ways, too - Orchestre Symphonique Ose! presenting Manifesto in Switzerland in what is the piece’s best performance yet, the very warm reception afforded to the Helsinki Chamber Choir’s performance of Lamentations, and I would be amiss if I didn’t mention the premiere of Hiroshima in Estonia this past summer, which led to my significant invitation to the the Composer-in-Residence at Bard Music West and writing a new dance work with SF Ballet principal dancer and choreographer James Sofranko.


Yet it all seems a prelude to 2018, when the aforementioned Bard Music West premiere will take place and the Philharmonia Orchestra will premiere Adagio, the Royal Philharmonic Society commissioned piece. That’s only a start, but at the moment, at the end of a very busy year, I cannot imagine a more hectic couple weeks than what I have ahead of me during my short trip back to California.


Over the course of the past few months that have been in some ways life-changing and other ways just a continuation of a life that has probably seemed almost glamorous to the outside world but in many ways has been chosen out of necessity and fate, I asked myself how the latest ‘stop’ in my life, in Hong Kong, would have influenced my music. Would it change my life path and aesthetic entirely, as it did in Estonia, or would it affect it mildly, almost allow me to develop in spite of my location, as it was in the UK? To judge so soon is probably difficult, but even in bustling, tiny Hong Kong I have found space and serenity, watching the boats pass through Rambler Channel out my window just as I watched the snow fall that first white winter in Tallinn.


> tuesday > 5 December 2017 > Oakland, CA, USA


One of the most tangible moments I experience in Hong Kong on a fairly is the color of the “air”, so to speak - and this is not something limited to sunset, when just about any location in the world could conjure something beautiful. In Hong Kong, the entire day cycles through yellows, pinks, blues, and whites, in seemingly random order. They are all pastels and all uniquely local: I have not seen a yellow light as pale and as ephemeral as the one here ever in my life. And even the grays, the days when every high-rise appears to be a mirage or a product of the static one sees on the TV when the connection is down, seem to move too, never staying too long to exceed their welcome.


And so I was wondering some months ago how being in Hong Kong would influence my music, if it would influence my music at all. This ‘coming-on’ of the mist - there are moments when you can barely see one hundred feet ahead - and these pastel colors have seeped into the Philharmonia Orchestra commission in intriguing ways. As I was looking for new methods of moving between harmonies, so I thought one could move between harmonies as a mist moves between buildings: covering, uncovering, at times permeable, and at times impermeable.


Among the pastels, the most beautiful color of all was black - the many blacks of the Li River, cormorant fishing near Yangshuo, China - a romantic way to end the year.


The semester is over, the temperature is cooling only in spirit but not really in fact, and Christmas decorations are up everywhere, including giant Christmas trees occupying prime positions in the prime shopping malls (of which Hong Kong has more than could ever be counted). I have more music to write than I can really comprehend at the moment. it’s nice problem to have at the end of a very surprising 2017.


> saturday > 25 November 2017 > Hong Kong, HKSAR


Ten days ago I wondered how I would ever find the time, and the space, to compose here, in Hong Kong - the reputation is that this is such a busy place that something that requires, for me, at least, the utmost peace and separation from the outside world. And in my first few months here, it really was just that: the many trips away to London and elsewhere, the numerous hours effectively wasted on setting bank accounts and other accounts, the heat (which in other senses was inspiring in its own way). But now Hong Kong has cooled down and I have discovered peace, quiet, serenity. I have written a lot of music.


And I will be writing a lot of music in the future, it seems. There are a couple of news items I would love to announce but out of deference to the festivals and organizers, will sort of keep under wraps until made public, most likely not until January. But suffice to say for now that I have long sought to have my music relevantly performed in the United States. Apart from PUBLIQuartet, who have without question given my String Quartet the kind of attention, love, and dedication I could never have even asked for, and some major events in the past like my Minnesota Orchestra performance in 2015, finding my music on the calendar in the US, especially on the West Coast, has been a very problematic activity. That will change in 2018. Most ironically, it will change when I live geographically furthest from the United States than I ever have.


A few days ago, I hiked up to a small village, Chuen Lung, in the shadow of Tai Mo Shan, the SAR’s highest mountain (and one of the highest coastal peaks in all of China). The valley, approximately halfway up the mountain, contains fruit orchards, a small tea plantation, and a couple tea houses seemingly a world away from bustling Tsuen Wan just a couple miles down the slope. That feeling, in general, that something just adjacent can also be worlds away defines Hong Kong for me far more than the appellation of it being a busy place. I am busy, too, but worlds away from busy Hong Kong, here, in the world of writing music.


> wednesday > 15 November 2017 > Hong Kong, HKSAR


Finding the time to write something - write anything - has been difficult. By writing I mean both music and here. I really did mean to begin writing Adagio, my commission by the Royal Philharmonic Society for the Philharmonia Orchestra, over a month ago but somehow it didn’t happen, and then weeks of travel got in the way. Upon returning to Hong Kong just over a week ago (and it is amazing to consider a week has passed so quickly), I promised myself that I would begin the piece and update the website. It still took longer than I want to admit, but I have by now done both.


The most special recording session of my life took place in Kauniainen, Finland on the 22nd of October with the Helsinki Chamber Choir. I was then in Poland for the EUNIC Trauma & Revival program, in beautiful but chilly and rainy Krakow for the first time in my life, followed by almost two weeks in the UK teaching in Oxford and returning here to Hong Kong, all of which fell somewhere between a real trial of my system and a genuinely rewarding experience. Somewhere through all this, I received the video of the Helsinki Chamber Choir’s performance of Lamentations at the Musiikkitalo back in mid-October. To tell the truth, I haven’t even had time to watch it!























The Helsinki Chamber Choir at the Musiikkitalo, now in video! (c) Helsinki Chamber Choir


Now my attention is turned entirely to Adagio - why the name? For some reason that eludes me, and perhaps for the best, I wanted to create my own Adagio, somehow referencing the Barber that I played many many years ago as a violinist, but never directly and certainly not audibly. Beyond all that, I am trying to make a piece that carries with it real emotional power; in a way, a counterpoint to my cerebral Manifesto. And perhaps it is only right that, it will have been four years to the date of my premiere with London Philharmonic that I present a piece entirely different and, at the same time, entirely me.


> thursday > 19 October 2017 > Hong Kong, HKSAR


It was at just about this time a year ago that I flew to Helsinki just as a couple massive blizzards were approaching the region for the first commercial recording of State of the Union, my most ambitious choral work. Helsinki was bone-chillingly cold and dark. The snow arrived in a big way as soon as my ferry for St Petersburg departed. By the time we docked, the snow cover and the flurries meant that one had to step carefully to avoid losing one’s shoe on the sidewalk - or really anywhere for that matter. Winter is approaching, not that the balmy, gray days in Hong Kong would ever suggest. But tomorrow evening, I’m crossing the Chinese mainland border for the first time in six years (since my last visit to Shanghai in 2011) and into Shenzhen, from where I will fly to Helsinki for part two of this recording adventure. This time, the piece may be less ambitious in length but is just as dear to me; in fact, because it’s been in my life in one way or another for almost four years, it is almost more dear: Lamentations.


Lamentations had its world premiere as a complete set on Monday evening at Finland’s premiere music venue, the Musiikkitalo. But the piece started long before that, when I wrote the first movement as a workshop sketch for the Eric Ericsons Kammarkör in the fall of 2012. Then another short choir piece on a similar text came about thanks to a request by the BBC Singers; the premiere was at the BBC Maida Vale Studios in 2013, but the piece was ultimately abandoned and, I felt, in many ways a bit unfinished. Then, finally, the middle movement, something I wrote for the Rautavaara Competition piece, was marvelously performed by the Helsinki Chamber Choir and became a musical moment I felt was definitive for my choral output, so I finally went back to the outer two pieces and, with the opportunity to finally commercially record them, completely re-wrote them for this occasion.


The Helsinki Chamber Choir at the Musiikkitalo, (c) Helsinki Chamber Choir


Little did I know that the premiere in Helsinki would finally get the piece the positive press it deserved. Wilhelm Kvist, writing in Finland’s leading Swedish-language publication, the Hufvudstadsbladet, praised the piece above all others on the program, calling it “doubtless the most tranquil piece on the evening and the one that will remain “strongest in memory”. For some reason, my commitment to tonality is something both I and reviewers periodically question, but I feel that only I am the one who sees how tonal my own music is. So I credit Wilhelm for recognizing that Lamentations, at least, uses its tonality for drama, or as he says, “as if briefly glimpsing something unknown, and then suddenly disappearing.” With the performance of my String Quartet with PUBLIQuartet coming up next week in Colorado, another piece that uses tonality for good, I suppose it’s never too late to recognize that it is actually the fundamental feature of every piece I write.


> sunday > 1 October 2017 > Hong Kong, HKSAR


I am trying my best to avoid this page seeming like a travel journal, or notes from someone stuck on a desert island: “Two weeks in. Wind westerly.” “One month in, fashioned a shelter from palm trees.” Ironically, Hong Kong feels more at home than most other places I’ve lived in. Unlike New York, to which, when I visit, I cannot any longer relate, or London, to which I never related in the first place, Hong Kong is somehow exciting, familiar, forward-looking, and rooted in its (short but rich) past, all at the same time. Just when I was starting to imagine that certain parts of the city are losing their charm - and, surely, there are - with new identical-looking residential high-rises elbowing out the traditional, grungy, dystopian future-looking tenements all over Kowloon and elsewhere, the next day I discover a neighborhood that is entirely full of them, bursting at the seams, where urban renewal is a state of mind, not a construction project.


And where I chose to live, at least for the time being, represents also where I am in this stage in life: no longer needing urbanity to celebrate where I have gotten to in life, I chose a place that straddles the border of city and country, of water and hills. Aside from that, the views are utterly beautiful. It will be sad to leave in less than forty-eight hours time: I am flying to London on early Tuesday morning.


Sunsets in Tsuen Wan, my new home in Hong Kong.


The reason? The Royal Philharmonic Prize and my Philharmonia Orchestra project is about to get going and it’s also about time to experience some cool autumn weather, too. I look forward to returning to composition renewed and revived, and writing a genuinely special new piece for chamber symphony orchestra. There’s even more coming up. The fabulous PUBLIQuartet present my String Quartet next weekend in Milford, PA, USA at an excellent year-long music series called Kindred Spirits. The Helsinki Chamber Choir will present Lamentations in its complete version for the very first time at the legendary Musiikkitalo later in the month. And the premiere of Pensées is still scheduled for the end of the year, along with a few other concerts of recent works, to be announced, in Italy and the US. So being here, in the center of it all, and also away from it all - I am happy.


> 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.