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Various Configurations

from Monday, September24th of the year2012.

Okay, ça fait longtime since I’ve blogged, and I feel kind of okay about it. I’ve been in a monthlong recovery and catch-up mode since this summer’s adventures; I knew, instinctively, that I wasn’t going to be able to write as much as I wanted while dealing with Gait in Birmingham, and when I finally arrived home to New York on August 6, I found myself with a fistful of sketches for pieces without any actual pieces, and several looming deadlines. I entered a sort of manic period of writing a series of pieces for chamber ensembles & solo instruments. I put the final touches on a piece for my hometown, Randolph, VT, and wrote a piece for Jeffrey Kahane & Daniel Hope to play at the Library of Congress, of all places. I wrote a song cycle for the lovely and wonderful Jennifer Zetlan, and finished a piano explosion for Simone Dinnerstein, and organized a few more drone moments, and finished a long-standing project, this new ballet, Moving Parts, for Benjamin Millepied’s new company in Los Angeles.

And now I am exhausted. I’ve just spent the last week in Los Angeles with Benjamin putting together Moving Parts at Disney Hall. The program was great: a piece of William Forsythe from the 90’s called Quintett, a Cunningham piece from the 60’s with an antagonistically bleak drone from LaMonte Young, and then our new work. The Forsythe piece was astonishing. I’d seen his work before, but never up close, and never this particular work, which uses most of Gavin Bryars’ delicious Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet as its music. The piece is simultaneously melancholy and playful, with some gasp-inducing coups wherein a dancer’s body will somehow curl around another like a tentacle, and whip outwards: cartoonish, science-fiction stuff, but with a sense of ritual and mystery.

The new piece I wrote for Benjamin required me to play the magnificent and large-fries-looking pipe organ in Disney Hall, which was so fun. It’s been years since I’ve properly played the organ; I am spoiled by my friend Jamie McVinnie, who is a proper and great organist. In his absence, I took it upon myself to register this thing, figuring out the nuances of the room and of the instrument itself, to try to make the piece sing. One forgets that the organ is essentially the first synthesizer; the process of figuring out which stops to use when is rather like the process of orchestrating a piece. The thrill, of course, is changing tack in the middle of the show. There was one moment that called for a full effect, and on opening night I second-guessed myself and chose a politely loud stop. The second day, I was more confident, and basically took the thing to eleven. I wish there were a way to reorchestrate pieces on the fly! Add back the trombones “good taste” said might be a bit de trop here; add glock to this line because the room feels like it could take it…

I had a flare-up of a terrible thing which is stress-induced dry skin on the hands; I haven’t had it in years, actually, but this week it came back. Having to play anything — or conduct, for that matter — for dance is always scary. The normal tempering devices of adrenaline and nerves have to be extra in check, because any slight deviation in tempo means that the forces of gravity will fuck up the dancers. Once, years ago, I conducted a dance piece way, way too fast and I felt so awful afterwards when a very handsome, and very sweaty ballet gentleman was near tears from having had to rush through a whole sequence; since then I’ve been trying to learn how to keep steady and resist that performance excitement. Anyway, stressful. I feel like it would have been fine if there were a way to close down all my inboxes for a fortnight before any such performances, but that seems a little precious, and also, aren’t I a big girl who can play two concerts without the skin sloughing off the sides of my fingers and palms!? Anyway, the piece is coming, in various configurations, to a town near you this year and next!

More soon, I hope. I’m excited to get back to writing words, too!


  • Take care of your hands, keep them away from warm things like mugs of coffee, no matter how nice it feels to cup your hands round it

  • Wow, that’s a lot of work. The Moving Parts ballet out in LA sounds like a lot of fun. I do hope you can manage to pace yourself a little better, stress induced illness is preventable after all! Go listen to some smooth jazz for a while or something 😛

  • I can’t wait for you to visit Cincinnati!

  • Nico, it’s wonderful to see your mention of the “piano explosion” (!) you’ve composed for Simone. I absolutely cannot wait to hear this piece in Boston on November 12. Thank you for the wonderful program note you also composed. It’s been a treat to promote this concert, you’ll see some of that at Be well.