It’s always a pleasure to hear one’s work played well but even more so in the continuing era of Covid-19. Yesterday I enjoyed listening to a rehearsal of my duo, Incantation, by violinist Euna Kim and violist William Lane at the beautiful and historic Haw Par Music.William is the founder and Euna a member of Hong Kong New Music Ensemble, a group doing more than any other to promote contemporary music in Hong Kong. Yesterday’s gathering was a bit of a test run for what we all hope will be a future performance of this work once the world opens up a bit more.
Incantation was premiered in 2013 at the Aspen Music Festival, where I was one of ten Fellows working with Steve Stucky, George Tsontakis, and a venerable group of visiting faculty composers. It seems both like yesterday and a lifetime ago. The title evokes the repeated phrases, spells, rituals—these simple syllables—which have the power to stir emotions and also spirts. In my music, at first these spirits take the form of repeated gestures and later raging scales and clusters. Are these perhaps the same thing?
In advance of our rehearsal—and also during and following it—I made some revisions to the piece. I rarely revise my work beyond a few small details and notations, but in this case I felt the need. Somehow the several days of work I did a decade after “finishing” the piece—while only about 15% different—seem to make the piece around 30% better. This is what we call musical math.