String Quartet Premiere at The Getty, 10/5/12

On Friday, October 5th, the Calder Quartet will perform a special concert at The Getty Center in Los Angeles, commemorating the work of sculptor Franz Xaver Messerschmidt.  The program will feature the world-premiere performance of “A Hypocrite and Slandererer,” a blistering scherzo for string quartet I wrote specifically for the event. The concert will also feature original commissions from Mark Mothersbaugh and Don Davis: a great night for film music fans!

The Calder Quartet and I go way back. All five of us went to school together at USC. Violinists Ben Jacobson and Andrew Bulbrook, violist Jonathan Moerschel and cellist Eric Byers performed many of my concerts and recordings during our time at USC. After graduation, they formed the remarkably successful Calder Quartet, and I did my thing. October 5th marks the first time the five of us will have collaborated in over a decade.

“We first met Bear in freshman year theory class at the Thornton School of Music at USC,” recalled violinist Andrew Bulbrook.  “As we worked through semesters of four-part harmony exercises it became clear who would become an accomplished composer (Bear) and who would become performers (the Calders!).”

Andrew was actually the first musician I ever worked with in Los Angeles.  He premiered my first freshman composition class assignment: “The Adventures of Happy and Speck.”  This ridiculous piece featured awkward double-stops, poor melodic setting and even called for drop-tuning the G-string (during the piece!) in order to get a low F.  Freshman year mistakes.  Thankfully, Andrew didn’t hold that piece against me and would continue to play my compositions for our entire college career.

Cellist Eric Byers premiered my composition “Nebula,” a work scored for solo cello and electronics.  The piece featured augmented major triads, mixed modes and oscillating rhythmic figures, all awash in digital delays and reverbs.  Looking back, I believe it is my earliest composition where one can hear traces of my eventual “Battlestar Galactica” score.

My string writing gradually got better and better while I was at USC.  (However, I’m still learning the tricks of the trade even now!)  These and other musicians I worked with at USC were a huge part of my musical evolution.

“Despite our early friendship this show at the Getty is the first time we will work together outside of our student days and we are thrilled,” said Bulbrook. “As we were talking with the Getty about a show exploring the legacy of Messerschmidt, the idea of commissioning pieces came up and Bear immediately came to mind.  The extreme facial expressions of the character heads of Messerschmidt are talked about as the birth of expressionism.  They are so theatrical, like the comedy and tragedy masks of ancient Greece.  Involving Bear seemed like the only choice for this project.”

Messerschmidt is most famous for his character head sculptures.  I was asked to select a particular one and compose a piece inspired by it.  I was immediately drawn to “A Hypocrite and Slanderer.”

While he doesn’t have the most expressive face, I was intrigued by the detailed etchings in his scalp.  My imagination was flooded with scurrying little violin lines, running around in circles, building up furiously. And his face just implies tension. If this guy is a hypocrite and slanderer, then it looks to me like he just got caught.  He looks like he’s feigning remorse to buy time to think up his next lie.

My composition takes these ideas and packs them into a furious scherzo that only a group like Calder could master.  I applied all the tricks for string writing I’ve learned doing weekly sessions for films and television.  My string-centric score for “The Walking Dead” proved especially useful for this, since that show has pushed me to use small string groups for maximum tension, dissonance and energy. And I was fortunate to have the advice of James Hopkins, my mentor from USC who has contributed his vast orchestration insight to many of my professional scores.

This is a concert not to be missed.  I hope to see a few of you there!

  • Date: Friday, October 5, 2012
  • Time: 7:00 p.m.
  • Admission: Tickets $20; students/seniors $15

For more information, including parking and purchasing tickets, check out The Getty Museum official site.

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“A Hypocrite and Slanderer” was not the only piece of concert music I wrote this summer.  My next blog entry will be about another concert piece I did that we recorded and have released on CD and iTunes.  Stay tuned!