Tuesday, February 26, 2008

David Ludwig Radiance (and his answers to five of our questions)

David Ludwig (1972- )

Radiance was written during my time at the Yaddo Artist Colony in Saratoga, NY, in the summer of 2003. That area of the world is alive with glowing, radiant things in the summertime, and these fireflies, stars, long sunsets, and burning campfires became one with the piece and inspired the title. I wanted to capture the warm evening and all of its incandescent surroundings in this short work for oboe and string orchestra.

The piece itself is rather simple, like an extended song or, more appropriately, a nocturne serenade. The oboe opens with its own motive that is then echoed in the strings in a chorale texture. The motive transforms and develops over the course of the work, as the music alternates between chorale writing and a singing aria-like passage with the soloist. The climax is hushed and quiet, like a hazy summer night.

The Richmond Symphony commissioned Radiance, and premiered it in 2003 with oboist Michael Lisicky and Mark Russell Smith conducting. The Vermont Youth Orchestra also performed it at their Carnegie Hall concert in 2005.

--David Ludwig

VSO: As a professional composer, you probably don't find yourself at home too often. What item(s) must be with you at all times?
DL: Well, actually I'm at home quite a bit! That is, when I'm not teaching or traveling. But my home space is my workspace (like the stage for an instrumentalist), so I can tell you what's with me at all times here at home: my blue lead pencils, artsy fun erasers, a ruler, of course music paper, a stand for the piano, the cat, and a mug of coffee.

VSO: Do you have a pre-performance ritual? How do you deal with nerves? Do composers get nervous before one of their pieces is played?
DL: I get very nervous for performances! Several times friends have asked me why I get nervous if there's nothing I can do about the performance. I say, "that's exactly WHY I get nervous in the first place!" It doesn't matter if it's an elementary school choir or a good orchestra in Carnegie Hall, I just get nervous. I've learned to cope with it better in the past years and sort of pretend like I'm not there in a sort of "out-of-body" experience disassociation. That way, it can be more like, "oh look at that composer looking nervous!"

VSO: If you could be Maestro for a day, what would you program?
DL: I have been a Maestro for a day...that's a great question, anyway! I would program a concert in exactly the way they used to be programmed – all freshly composed contemporary works and one older piece to serve as an interesting contextualizing contrast. This is how it was for Beethoven – all of his concerts were new music with one old piece on it! Now it's quite the reverse, with all old music and one new piece (maybe) or some at time token nod to the 20th Century. (I'm sorry, but Prokofiev on a program does not fill a "modern work" quota!) It would require the same sort of paradigm shift back, and there would be great resistance, but ultimately understanding and a new kind of enthusiasm about classical music that it could use now. Music has completely changed from a vibrant and active, living art form, to one that is mostly about preserving literature. Let's leave that to the libraries and museums and zillions of recordings of this music!

My uncle Peter Serkin has been presenting programs with a very wide mix of pieces – from early Medieval and Renaissance music arranged for piano, to Bach, to the most "contemporary" and sophisticated works, and then with a large Beethoven sonata to finish. Aside from being really exciting, it allows for a wonderful sense of context as the listener sees threads that run deeply through the long and rich history of Western music. I think this is a pretty great approach, too.

VSO: If you weren't a composer, what would you be doing?
DL: Jeez, this is tough. I always liked the law, but I always liked writing more. The problem is that I am already a writer in a way, so that wouldn't be another profession.

Ah, yes, I would be the third baseman for the Phillies this season (since Lowell wouldn't come down from Boston for 50 mil – I would do it for half that!).

VSO: What's your favorite aspect of Vermont?
DL: That's a whole essay in and of itself! I just feel – and always have – a closeness to Vermont. I remember as a little boy driving up to spend the holidays with my grandparents. It would get colder and colder on the drive, but also more open and clear – more free! My mother would always point out the one room school house where she went to school and the maple taps on all the trees. I feel close to people I know here in Vermont. I feel close to the social beliefs and the social consciousness of people I've known in Vermont. But it's the value in culture – the investment in the arts that is the thing I like the most about Vermont.