Sunday, March 22, 2009

Among the leaves

I haven't been much in a blogging frame of mind lately. After Musica Nova last month, my increasing inability to concentrate on anything necessitated some time off from real life. After a brief but much needed and well-earned vacation with my wife in Paris, I returned home refreshed and ready to work again, and immediately descended into a composing fog. More on all this later. I did want to break the silence, though, to shamelessly promote the following:

It's HOL's new release on Finland's Alba label, Lehdellä – Among the Leaves, the product of three-odd years' work, not counting the composing time for all the music. (The CD will be up for sale through Alba's online store soon.) In addition to my own settings of Octavio Paz and Santōka Taneda, including my much-blogged-about but never heard Shiki (Four Seasons), the CD also features Alex Freeman's and Juho Miettinen's evocative, jewel-like settings of the early Finnish modernist poet Aaro Hellaakoski, as well as a tiny piece by Jarmo Parviainen, HOL's conductor in the 1950s. I'm extraordinarily proud to have been involved in this project, not least because of the high quality of the singing, production, and sound engineering.

It's also a community effort in a very real sense. The visual design and translations all done pro bono by members of the choir – the advantage of singing in an amateur group is that its members have useful real-world professional skills – and most of the photography was done by our multi-talented director, Esko Kallio. There's scarcely an unfamiliar name in the production credits. The essay on the music, written by pianist Risto-Matti Marin (whose own new release on Alba appears today), is wonderful. Rather than edit together a bunch of disparate composer-written program notes and self-inflating biographical material, we wanted a text that would draw all the music together into a seamless whole. Risto-Matti's introduction, instead of dwelling on how the music sounds, how it behaves, how the words are set, gets into the trickier territory of what it all means, that crucial larger context for juxtaposing all these contrasting approaches to choral setting. It doesn't hurt that he knows me, Alex, Juho and Esko very well. The end result is a product that glows with the love and attention given to it by the people who made it.

In a way, it's appropriate that my first commercial recording is this one. My very first piece was for choir, and it's always been to the choir, to voices and text, that I've returned over the years when I wanted to figure out something about my music, to push myself in a new direction. It's also important that this release is done with this choir, the one that commissioned, protected and performed my music when few other people were interested. They've played a central role in my career thus far, not just as a composer, but as a total musician. It wasn't until I joined them that I realized just how much I'd missed performing in an ensemble after I quit the horn – the social, collective side of music-making – and I think I've become a better composer as a result of having this group as a performing outlet. They've been my workshop, my promoters, and best of all my friends for the last six years. I've been lucky to have some unbelievable professional opportunities come my way since I started out on this path, but this is without a doubt the best thing I've ever been part of.

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