Middle Man

UA Composer Daniel Asia Works From The Middle To Make Ends Meet.

By Dave Irwin

CLASSICAL COMPOSER DANIEL Asia realizes this is not the best of times for his chosen profession.

"It's very hard to have a career as a composer in this country," Asia admits. "As soon as you have kids, it's difficult because there's no stability. You can be up for two years and then you're forgotten. Corigliano was essentially forgotten for about 20 years."

Review To make ends meet, Asia, one of America's upper echelon of respected contemporary composers, is a professor at the University of Arizona.

The University's Faculty Chamber Artist Series will present the Southwest premier of Asia's Piano Trio on Monday, March 30, with the Lorenzo Trio.

Teaching for Asia is not just a sideline. "I enjoy working with student composers very much," he says. "Teaching is like going abroad. It both challenges your ideas and reaffirms them. Excellent students often challenge the assumptions you are working under."

He notes however, "My identity as a creative artist is Daniel Asia, composer. I'm known by that outside of Tucson, as much or more so than Daniel Asia, professor at the UA."

Writing a symphony is an even more prodigious task than writing a novel, because of the materials and medium. Few people do it at all, much less well. Asia's works currently include four symphonies, a piano concerto, numerous smaller orchestral works and a growing number of vocal and chamber pieces.

"I write very slowly, or what seems slowly to me," he says. "It takes me six to nine months to write a symphony or a piano concerto. I spend a good bit of time sketching, then finding what's most interesting in the sketches. Then those ideas lead to other ideas."

As for his compositional technique, he notes, "I don't write much in order. I write circularly or from a centered hub outwards. Then after I'm done, I see how all these things go together. They're in large blocks that are pieced together in a mosaic fashion. But there is always a sense of linearity about the music."

The Piano Trio was written in this manner. It was commissioned by Phillip Vance in memory of his wife, Jeanette Mahoney Vance. It premiered in July at the Elan Music Festival in Stowe, Vermont. Vance, now a Tucson resident, is expected to attend the performance, along with the composer.

"I wrote the second movement first, using the time-honored tradition of taking the letters of her name and creating a melody based on them. It's elegiac and meditative. The outer two movements are variations essentially, upbeat and fast."

After the opening theme, the Trio becomes a dialog with instruments trading the melody line mid-phrase, like a long-time couple finishing each other's sentences. Slowly, the phrases overlap, as if no longer hearing each other. Eventually, the angular melody lines return to coherence. The second movement has a surrealistic, dream-like quality, with moments of lyrical tenderness. Here, the piano develops the melody, over pizzicato cello and an atmospheric counterpoint on the violin. The third movement, after a powerful, almost symphonic opening, returns to the dialog technique of the first movement, though now more rich and refined, ranging from sharp dissonances to romanticism.

"Phillip loved the adagio, but he wasn't sure about the outer movements," Asia concedes. "The more he's listened to it, the more he's realized the connections between everything and how it works.

"You have to listen to a piece several times," Asia explains. "Hopefully, the first time through, you say, 'Wow, I liked that. I didn't get everything, but there was something happening.' It makes you want to go back and hear it a second time. That to me is successful."

The Lorenzo Trio consists of fellow UA faculty Mark Rush (violin), Tannis Gibson (piano) and Nancy Green (cello).

A cancellation by a guest artist forced a last-minute change in the evening's scheduled works. Rather than Beethoven and Faure, the program will now include Josef Haydn's Keyboard Trio No. 25 in C Major (Hob. XV:27) and Bedrich Smetana's Piano Trio in G minor, Op. 15. Haydn's Trio (1797) represents his highest classical skills at the end of his career. Smetana's emotional work was written in 1855 after the death of his 4-year-old daughter.

Daniel Asia's Brief Guide To Contemporary Composers

John Adams. "One of our best composers. I respect his eclecticism. He takes on big stretches of time. You get absorbed in the sound, it's just so beautiful."

The Beatles. "It's great music. Structurally, it's incredibly clear, great melodic contour. Everything that Schubert does well, the Beatles do incredibly well."

John Corigliano. "He's done some beautiful stuff. His Piano Concerto from the late '60s is gorgeous, as is his Clarinet Concerto."

Lukas Foss. "Brilliant in the same way that Bernstein was brilliant. Whenever I hear one of his pieces, there's always a moment when I want to go to the score and figure out how the hell he did it."

Witold Lutoslawski. "Does beautiful stuff. His Piano Concerto is one of the great concertos of the 20th century."

Also recommended: Miles Davis, Bitches Brew; Olivier Messiaen, Quartet for the End of Time; various works by George Crumb, György Ligeti, and Larry Coryell. TW

The Lorenzo Trio performs works by Asia, Haydn and Smetana at 8 p.m. Monday, March 30, in UA Crowder Hall, south end of the pedestrian underpass on Speedway, east of Park Avenue. A free pre-performance discussion will be held by Bob Billups at 7:15 p.m. in Music Room 162. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for students and senior citizens. Advance tickets are available at the UA Fine Arts box office, 621-1162.

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