|Numinous The Music of Joseph C. Phillips Jr.|
The Numinosum Blog
The first sixteen days of December 2003 saw me in the Netherlands for the Steve Reich Festival hosted by the Royal Conservatory of Music in Den Haag. For two weeks almost everything Steve Reich wrote up to that time was performed by various ensembles from the Conservatory as well as professional groups such as Paul Hillier and Theater of Voices, the Schoenberg Ensemble, Maya Beiser, and Anne De Keersmaeker. Also on the Festival were works by other composers who were his contemporaries, his influences, or influenced and inspired by him. The Jazz Ensemble wanted to be part of the Festival as well so the director asked Jim McNeely if there were any composers he knew of that were working with Steve Reich-ian influences in a more jazzy context. Hmm, that seems to sound a lot like me! So the director contacted me in the Fall and after some back and forth, settled on performing two of my compositions: To Kyoto and Into all the Valleys Evening Journeys. In addition I was to give two symposiums on composition during the Festival. Into all the Valleys in July 2003 was one of the finalist for the BMI Jazz Composer's Workshop Manny Albam Commission Prize (I didn't win...). By the time December and my trip rolled around I had already orchestrated Valleys for Numinous, almost finished Stillness Flows Ever Changing, and in the middle of sketches on what would turn out to be the first movement of my, as of then nameless, "large work." So I was ready and excited to be taking a little break from writing and heading to the land of windmills, tall women, and Heineken.
The Festival was very exciting because not only did I hear, sometimes for my first time live, much of the Reich canon (and looked at the scores at the school library!), but I also heard other compositions live for the first time as well. Pieces by Arvo Pärt (Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten), Michael Torke (Music on the Floor), Louie Andressian (Hout), and Michael Gordon (Yo, Shakespeare) were some that I especially remembered. Also, at intermission of the concert with Paul Hillier and Theater of Voices (where they performed Reich's Proverb), I actually talked at length with Steve Reich for about 20 minutes. This wasn't the first time I had met him (the first time was for less than 5 minutes at a concert at Miller Theater at Columbia University about a year earlier) but it was my first real conversation with him. I even gave him a copy of my first CD, which had come out that September, and we spoke warmly about various record labels and the state of jazz at the time.
Now even though the Festival was thrilling and I was busy with the preparations for the two Jazz Ensemble concerts where my compositions would be performed, I was a bit overloaded after awhile. So one of the days where I didn't have any official duties, I took a train from The Hague north to Amsterdam. I didn't have a map or anything to guide me so I just walked around that first day. Of course not far from Central Station, if you walk in the right direction (which somehow, I seemed to be doing) you soon run into one of the infamous Red Light Districts. Now there was a smaller one in Den Haag not far from where I was staying and which was on the way in my walk to the Conservatory (also a fun, cheap local Turkish diner I ate at most evenings), so I already knew what to expect. Continuing my walk outside the District I soon came upon a giant map on the sidewalk. Looking up from the ground I saw many large photos on outdoor displays. Most of the photos were aerial shots of nature with captions detailing some societal or ecological danger in the area of the photograph. This was my first exposure to Earth From Above by the photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand. I walked around and around the exhibition, often stopping by various photos only to circle back to them later and take another look. I was very moved and taken with the entire photo show. And because I really didn't have much money at the time, I didn't buy the Earth from Above book then, which I would have had I the euros, so I bought three postcards of some my favorites photos (about a year or so later, I finally bought the book).
There was one photo by Arthus-Bertrand that I was particularly struck by and it was one I came back to at least five times while walking around the exhibit. The photo, of a flock of scarlet ibis flying over the Amacuro delta in Venezuela, was taken from a perspective high above the flock. The very striking juxtaposition of the deep red birds against the rich black soil evoked in me a sense of ‘soaringness’ and beauty. It was this feeling that solidified for me what I wanted to achieve with the stalled next movement of my "large work." So even though many of the musical ideas were already on paper (yes, I still sketch ideas on paper), and the final composition was still a few months away, that photograph helped lead me to discover my own composition, "Of Climbing Heaven and Gazing on the Earth".
Check back soon for more insider tidbits about Vipassana!
Numinous performs Vipassana
Wednesday October 28, 2009 8 PM (one set only)
227 4th Avenue
Take the M, R Train to Union Street
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 9:00 AM
To all things that create a sense of wonder and beauty that inspires and enlightens.