Programming a Classical Season

Monday, September 14th, 2015

My mandate from the beginning was clear and concise: TownMusic’s programming should reflect my musical interests. A live iPod playlist, if you will. Well, my interests are broad and evolving! What can I say?

Nine seasons in, I’ve seen the development of an audience that comes for an experience. We’re lucky, in this sense, to be tied to an organization like Town Hall Seattle, which fosters community discussion and debate around issues important to Seattle. This spirit of engagement naturally flows over into the music series, and has prompted me to explore musical connections that might not be obvious based on traditional metrics. When an audience member leaves one of the TownMusic concerts, I want them to have had an experience that generates curiosity and excitement. Hopefully, they will have been surprised at some point, whether by unknown sounds or their own reaction to something of which they previously had a different expectation.

But how to do this without having a total mishmash of unrelated projects? There are several things which remain consistent from season to season:

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The Birth of a Cello Concerto

Tuesday, August 25th, 2015

Damn. This is hard! My respect for composers has gone through the roof since I first began scrawling on manuscript paper, and at no time has it been higher than the present. The focus and skill required to compose a work for soloist and orchestra are not easy to come by. Taking a few initial ideas – whether they come as a sound, a form, a gesture, a transitional mechanism – and turning them into a cohesive musical narrative is a process that can only be learned through experience.

There have got to be as many ways to do this as there are composers. I’ve gone through several myself, even on this one piece. To begin with, I had the idea to write from the piano. Supposedly, this would help me focus on the relationship between soloist and orchestra, rather than writing a solo line with incidental backup music behind it. Ironically, I realized several weeks into this method that all of the best moments were in the orchestra part, and the solo line was now secondary! Not to mention, it was taking forever due to my rudimentary keyboard skills.

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A Shared Lesson

Friday, August 7th, 2015

There’s something about stretching the limits, pushing the boundaries, that turns me on. When it’s a shared experience, the reward is greatly magnified. I recently had the honor of working with young musicians in a setting that kept all of us on our toes. In partnership with my series at Town Hall Seattle, the Seattle Youth Symphony called on some of their lovely players and alumni to join me and a few colleagues acting as mentors for a concert of 20th and 21st century string ensemble music.

It’s important to demonstrate to young musicians that ours is a tradition of innovation and creativity. Classical music is a living, breathing thing, not stuck in the past. The same discipline used to bring a Beethoven Symphony to its peak form can be turned to the task of helping birth a new work, and share a new idea. One of the most fruitful ways of passing along a teaching is to lead by example, and I’m ever so grateful to my friends from the Seattle Symphony and other orchestras who played in our ensemble as mentors.

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Shifting Gears

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015

Dear Reader:

Is it really May, already? It’s such a cliché, but I really do feel sometimes that the calendar must be lying. April was a more typical month for me, with multiple concertos and recitals. Mostly traditional repertoire: Dvorak’s Cello Concerto, Haydn’s C Major Cello Concerto, Tchaikovsky Rococo Variations, Bach Suites… there were a few newer pieces mixed in as well, including my own “Riding Light”. In fact, that particular performance was one of the few in my life where my Cstring has had the audacity to snap during a juicy moment. Audiences seem to love that, although for me it’s just a pain to have to go grab another one and retune, then decide where to start again.

Along with all of that, April is also of course tax season, and every self-employed Musician knows just how long that can take. So between all of these things, plus other random tasks, I did not get as much done on my upcoming cello concerto as I’d like. Luckily, this month is dedicated to producing notes on paper!

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A Worthwhile Journey

Thursday, April 2nd, 2015

Dear Readers:

Thank you for joining me here as we embark on an exploration of musicians’ lives in today’s changing landscape. Over the last few years, I have been taking on projects and roles that I never dreamt would be a part of my professional life as a musician, and I see many of my colleagues redefining their musical career as well.

For many of us, this is uncertain territory. Leaving our practice rooms behind, entering the worlds of interdisciplinary collaborations, social experiments, entrepreneurial endeavors, and in general, a broader sense of creativity, we are making things up as we go.

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