Dan Visconti has won the third commission offered through the Kronos: Under 30 Project. The 22-year-old composer, currently pursuing a master’s degree in composition at the Cleveland Institute of Music, will write a new work for Kronos and be in residence with the quartet at the Hopkins Center in Hanover, New Hampshire, in January 2006.
Unsurprisingly, Visconti is pretty excited about the chance to write for and work with the ensemble. “When I was growing up,” explains Visconti, “I became absorbed in the Kronos Quartet’s visceral and adventurous recordings in much the same way that many adolescents obsess over the albums of the great, iconic rock bands.”
A student of Margaret Brouwer and Zhou Long, Visconti teaches composition and popular songwriting through the conservatory, and also serves as a faculty member of the Young Composers Program at CIM.
He has won awards and scholarships including a BMI Student Composer Award, two consecutive first-place awards in the ASCAP/Victor Herbert Young Composers Competition, the NFMC Devora Nadworney Award for Vocal Writing, the 2004 BMI Foundation Boudleaux Bryant Commission and a 2005 Copland House residency. His recent commissions include works for the Moore/Better Duo, the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra, the Cleveland Museum of Art’s AKI Festival and Antares.
More than 300 composers from 35 countries applied to the Project, which is a collaboration of the Kronos Quartet and the Hopkins Center, Dartmouth College, in cooperation with the American Music Center.
The Kronos: Under 30 Project was created in 2003, Kronos’s 30th anniversary year, to support the creation of new work and to help Kronos cultivate relationships with the next generation of composers. In previous rounds they have commissioned work from Alexandra du Bois (String Quartet: Oculus Pro Oculo Totum Orbem Terrae Caecat, premiered in 2003) and Felipe Pérez Santiago (CampoSanto, premiered in 2004). Both works have been subsequently programmed on a number of international Kronos appearances and both will be featured on their February 2005 concert at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall in New York.
A quick Q&A with Dan Visconti
Molly Sheridan: Can you tell me a bit about the piece you submitted to win the commission?
Dan Visconti: I submitted several pieces and movements of pieces on a demo CD which ranged from an amplified cello piece to some short songs to some selections for string quartet. But the score I submitted had not been recorded yet—I kind of went out on a limb in sending it, actually! It’s an orchestra piece, titled Graffiti commission by the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra.
Here’s the program note:
I’ve long been interested in the ways “serious” art and the vernacular interact; in Graffiti, I was inspired by the selfsame act of creative vandalism and the musical opportunities this suggested to me. Specifically, I was interested in certain walls and even whole alleys that had been covered with so many layers of paint that they appeared more like vast, intricate murals than a rather minor form of crime.
The raw, communicative urgency of these collages—each one created by many different people, often rivals from different factions—suggested to me a musical landscape in which many distinct elements are thrown into violent juxtaposition with each other. I borrowed from the rough, expressive language of rock n’ roll for a good deal of the material, and attempted to weave the sounds into a complex tapestry in order to create a musical metaphor for my experience. The way in which certain, newer, portions of a graffiti mural sometimes blend into, distort, or even completely obliterate previous contributions ended up influencing the development of the piece as well.
Anyway: It’s a very challenging, detailed score, one that could easily be something of a put-off to most reviewers, especially without the aid of a recording. Even as I hesitated to send the piece, something about it felt right for Kronos, and I hoped that the work’s bold spirit of experimentation might come across to an ensemble that has itself been boldly crossing boundaries for the past thirty years.
Molly Sheridan: Any ideas yet for the new work, even just a sense of what you might want to say using a string quartet? I know you’ve been a fan of the quartet for some time…
Dan Visconti: My ideas for the work are admittedly a bit vague at this point, but there are a few I’ve been tossing around. I’m currently finishing another commission for a really stellar group of players, Antares. That work, Psychedelic Rainbow Blues, explores the sound world of late-’60s studio experimentation in a series of very short movements that are strung together in a way that resembles a rock album more than a concert piece—I was really concerned with capturing that kind of raw detail and manipulating it to my own ends. For example, there’s a movement that’s supposed to sound like an old LP that’s been beat up a bit, which fades in from the middle of nowhere at the pindrop, and another movement which has “remixed” material, which returns all dubbed out with sudden rewinds that scratch like turntables…you get the picture.
In the piece I’m about to begin writing for Kronos, I’ve already decided that I’d like to write one longer movement with a little more breathing room, and also that I’d like to restrict myself somewhat in terms of how the whole drama plays out. That is, I’d like to establish a strong premise and make the piece grow out of that premise by the rigorous logic of the musical ideas I’ve put forth; I’m very interested in the music achieving some startling expressive turns, but I think it would really be musically interesting to make those turns grow out of a logical process, but in a way that couldn’t have been foreseen.
I’ve been a real fan of Kronos since I was a teenager, and I also have had experience playing violin in a quartet when I was younger. In my previous works for string quartet, I’ve been very keen on expressing musical detail, and I hope to refine that impulse during my work with Kronos and strip my language down to what is absolutely essential.
Molly Sheridan: The two previous winners have gotten quite a bit of exposure from their commissioned works, much more than a one-night premiere would offer. What sort of impact do you expect/hope this commission will have on your professional career? What about artistically?
Dan Visconti: This commission is such a great honor for such a variety of reasons that I think it would be very easy to lose sight of its primary importance for me at this stage in my career—that of a learning experience. I’m hoping to really stretch myself and keep reaching for the kinds of experiences I want my music to be about, and working with Kronos is sure to provide me both with great ideas and encouragement. I’m thrilled that Kronos is committed to the piece so strongly before I’ve even written a note—just knowing that the quartet intends this to be the beginning of a longer relationship instead of the kind of stillborn, one-shot-deal that is lamentably so frequent in the new music world inspires me to try for something that will last, or hopefully is at least worthy of lasting.
Molly Sheridan: Oh, and of course I want to hear your “how I found out” anecdote…
Dan Visconti: My phone didn’t ring one morning, as it is wont to do at the most infuriating times. I checked my messages and there was one that began “Hi Dan, this is David Harrington…” I didn’t believe it! Then I sat there for a moment and replayed it, let it sink in. I didn’t know for sure that I won at this point, just that Kronos wanted to speak with me, and I had to sit and fester pretty much the whole day, trying not to get my hopes up too much. Then we finally connected later and the bomb hit. It means so much to me when performers like your music to the point of wanting to play it—much more than when other composers review my work, which is usually the case with competitions. Before I write for audiences, even, I write for performers, and it’s deeply satisfying to have the chance of writing for performers I so deeply respect.