Still Life With Blue: feature by the Durham Symphony’s Music Director

Some volunteers are charmed.

In May 2012, I composed something of a volunteer. William Curry, the Durham Symphony’s conductor came in at the end of the month, just as I was playing it through, and said “I want that piece”. To make a long story short, in 2013, Still Life With Blue became the first movement of a three movement suite for orchestra, one version of which was played with the El Sistema affiliate in Durham (“KidZ Notes”) and the Durham Symphony under the direction of W.H. Curry.  This was made possible through the visionary work of Duke’s Office of the Vice Provost for the Arts under my colleague Scott Lindroth–helping to get the gown to the town– by KidZNotes, by Durham parents and the Durham Symphony. The work comprised 1. Still Life With Blue. 2. Cut Time (a different orchestra piece I composed for the National Symphony) and 3. A Smile, which included the voices of kids rehearsing. It was all performed, in various versions, concert and educational, under the title Southern Lights, in 2013, and was a very nice project, which has now been written about with love and music, by the DSO’s Music Director, Bill Curry. His Monday Musicales with the Maestro have represented wonderful new outreach during the pandemic, and I am honored to have been written about along with other composers of real interest.

Once, when I was in Italy, I heard an all-Beethoven program led by Zubin Mehta at the Teatro Carlo Felice, as a benefit to the orchestra and chorus, who were locked out by management and on strike.  After the program, Maestro Mehta addressed the audience from the stage (in perfect Italian) suggesting that a model of government support, private and community support was needed to sustain musical organizations.  I recall him saying that “in my country…every town has its own community orchestra, educational institutions…” and so on.…”musical life is not just organized around the famous symphonies and opera companies.”  In a word, Zubin Mehta was describing the efforts of people like Bill Curry, who have spent a lifetime contributing to communities in North Carolina, New Orleans, and elsewhere.  Please don’t forget to support the local musical life, from the Duke String School, and KidZnotes, to the many wonderful outlets for chamber music, jazz, blues and hip-hop.

STILL LIFE WITH BLUE alone, as a piano solo, returned in fall 2019 in performances by Gloria Cheng throughout the southeast. It is a somewhat more “informal” piece—and has the feeling of something the pianist would improvise, late at night, after the concert.  Ms. Cheng recorded the piece at UCLA in 2019, and pandemic permitting, her recording will soon be released.

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