Friday, June 25, 2010

Omar I

Man, it's been a while since I last uploaded. Sorry about all the delay, things have gotten surprisingly busy here this summer. I did something I never thought I would do after college, and joined a band. We're called Medicine Lake, and we are two parts Peabody and one part Towson. I'm playing keyboards, vibes/marimba, and singing backup vocals with them. It's really, really fun.

Anyway, more on that later. The video I just posted tonight was probably the biggest musical challenge I had to face for this recital (or, at least tied with ...And Points North). Omar, by the late Franco Donatoni, is actually a collection of two pieces for solo vibraphone. I only learned the first of the two works--my classmate and colleague Candy Chiu (who is now studying up at Yale) played the second work on her recital last year, and it must have been equally hard (if not harder) than the one I played.

When I heard Candy's performance on the second work, I can't say I was that attracted to the piece. Nothing wrong with her performance, and I'm no person to critique the writing of Franco Donatoni--his music just isn't especially easy on the ears. When my teacher told me to start learning it, I had no idea what I would be getting myself into. Learning the notes to this piece was, much like ...And Points North, akin to learning another language. Where as most tonal (or rather, conventionally harmonized) music settles in my ear fairly quickly, I found myself on the same two measures of Omar after having had the music for a week. I had to really push myself hard, and force those notes into my brain. Even still, I was not able to commit the last two sections of the work to memory, and had to do the performance with the music in front of me.

As I spent time learning this music, the personality of the piece began to show. My teacher uses the word "schizophrenic" to describe this piece, and I wholeheartedly agree. In each section, it seemed like there were two different voices speaking at once--at times, almost as if they were arguing. This made me realize my role as the performer was even more challenging than simply trying to learn notes that didn't sit well in my head--I had to take this harsh, abrasive, and largely inaccessible music, and bring it to life by making the voices have their own characters, and personalities. I don't know if it made me like the music any more (it probably did, I'm an optimist), but it certainly gave me a whole new respect for the music.

In the end, yes, I wish I had it memorized. I've played the piece better than I performed it on my recital. But, given all of the circumstances involved, I'm pretty happy with how the performance went. Maybe someday soon, I'll be posting Omar II up here as well.


  1. Dear Doug,
    I am taking the liberty to suggest a couple of sources to deepen your understanding of Franco Donatoni's music and, generally speaking, of XX - and XXI, hopefully.... - century music.
    This is the link which shows an excellent recording of some Donatoni's work by a Dutch ensemble:;
    I know that Stephen Drury, a fantastic pianist and conductor affiliated with the N.E.C. in Boston, was about to record 'Hot' by Donatoni;
    Prof. ( or just Dr.? I don't know...) Jeff Nichols at CUNY coordinated - along with me - a week long Donatoni's seminar at Harvard in 1998.
    An excellent book by Pierre Boulez, that Franco Donatoni used to recommend, is 'Boulez on Music Today'(;
    Another book I found extremely useful is:
    'Ear Training for the Twentieth Century Music' by Michael L. Friedmann
    On my part I had the chance - litterally - to have Donatoni as my FIRST composition teacher in Milan (Italy) in the late 70's for 4/5 years and in the mid90's for 2 more years.
    I hope you find all this 'stuff' useful and my suggestions not too pedantic, please do forgive mr I am an 'old man', now........
    In Music,
    Marco G.Visconti-Prasca

  2. Wow, thanks for all of the great information! I'll be sure to look into all of this 'stuff' :)

  3. Great!! I am also studying the piece right now , and YES!! is really hard to learn all the notes just to even start understanding the piece. I found a good website that talks about Omar. And how the composer use a basic material, presented in the first chords progression section. And the applying filters in differents panels, transform that material with differents aproaches. Sorry for my english.

    I like very much the post, and thanks for having the time to write it. At least i know that i am not the only one that study a lot to learn the notes.

    All best, from Venezuela. Daniel