Finding Rothko was written during my second year as a doctoral student at Juilliard. I was 25, and studying with John Corigliano. I spent six months writing the piece, and the experience forever shaped me as a composer. I’d show up early in the fall for lessons, wanting to discuss the work and show John material, but I was still grappling with my ideas and how to organize them. I didn’t realize until much later that John was intentionally staying out of my process. I had 2-3 months of lessons that lasted only 15-20 minutes each. We would talk, I would express my frustrations, and he would then tell me to go home and figure it out. It wasn’t until I completed a full draft that John began to weigh in. For four consecutive days, I spent hours in his studio while he asked me endless questions. We went over each measure linearly and vertically, and what I learned was immeasurable. Rothko embodies my first attempt at atmospheric and aleatoric music. The 3rd movement is almost entirely written using graphic notation. It represents an improvisation, as if Rothko himself were spattering the vibrant red paint onto the canvas for the first time, before turning it into his signature multi- form style. The last movement, Wine, represents some of the most beautiful music I’ve ever written.
American Symphony is the first orchestral work I wrote after graduating from Juilliard in 2010. The symphony also represents my first time primarily working with technology as a way of composing. I love to improvise, and I began using a midi-sequencing program called Logic Pro while working on this piece. I improvised movements I and III into Logic, and played every single line on the keyboard that you’ll hear in the orchestra. Once the movement felt complete within Logic, I then orchestrated it in Finale. Movements II and IV were written by hand and/or directly into Finale. The final movement used Logic, pencil and paper, and Finale. The symphony also represents my exploration of layer-oriented music. The first movement has up to eight layers being played simultaneously (it requires multiple hearings in order to discern each one). The piece also embodies my first attempt at writing groove-oriented music (e.g., movements I, III, and parts of V), which is something I have gone on to further explore over the last few years.
My music is deceptively difficult; as a musician once told me, “it’s perfectly off.” On paper it looks relatively straightforward, because it lives in more of a tonal or modal world, but it is extremely challenging rhythmically, technically, and most importantly, musically. It requires more discipline from the performer and conductor, because it demands technical facility and emotional depth. This is especially challenging when rehearsal time is limited. The musicians must get in- side the notes to understand their subtleties as they evolve. They might not fully understand their role until much later in the rehearsal process when the piece comes together as a whole.
With this in mind, I must give a special thank you to Michael Stern. He is the first conductor to champion my music. He understands it, embraces it, and gives it an emotional dimension that would otherwise not exist. I also must thank the musicians of the Kansas City Symphony. This is an orchestra that plays with tremendous vigor, spirit, and emotion. They have patiently watched me grow as a composer, and I could not be more pleased to have them be the first to bring my music to life in a permanent form. Lastly, I would like to thank Frank Byrne, Joan Horan, David Frost, Professor Keith Johnson and the entire Reference Recordings team. Without any of them, this recording would not exist.
My goal as a composer has always been to try and bring more beauty into our conflicted world. I want listeners to momentarily escape, and be transported to a place like no other, before returning to their everyday lives. I hope that you enjoy the journey that you are about to embark upon. Thank you for taking the time to listen.