LA Composers Project 2013: David Utzinger

Utzinger headshotNext up in our series of interviews with composers featured on What’s Next? Ensemble‘s fifth annual Los Angeles Composers Project is David Utzinger. Here we go:

The name of your piece being performed at LACP 2013 is:

Quintet for Flute, Piano, and String Trio 

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Tell us about it.

I wrote the second movement of this piece for a class I was taking at the Berklee College of Music (where I received my bachelor’s degree). It was originally scored for Flute, Violin, Cello, and Piano. A professor of mine liked the piece and asked that it be put on an upcoming school concert. I had to get the players together (of course), and as Berklee is primarily a Jazz school, I needed to look outside of the college for “classical” players that could handle the material. I had a really good friend at Boston Conservatory that played viola, she said “I can find you all the players you need if you write in a viola part”, so now the piece had a viola part. The movement was performed, everything went off fine, and then I decided about 6 months later that the only thing about the piece that I liked was the “coda”. The coda was a three voice fugue, the subject of the fugue being a very diatonic twelve tone row (they exist). In the end, only that coda survived from the original piece (still at the end of the second movement). About five years later I wrote the first movement (which is what is being performed at the LACP concert), starting the piece with a fragment of the tone row, played pizzicato in the cello.

I see music in terms of shapes and colors; triangles, squares etc. In my mind the first movement was a combination of white, light blue and grey, and was a triangle, or rather a wedge that wedged to the right, like a door stop.  The beginning is the “small” side, and as the piece progresses, it slowly ramps up in tempo, density, volume, texture etc. I think of it as a giant crescendo. The fragment of the original tone row appears here and there, usually as a melodic line, poking its head out above the accompaniment. The opening of the piece is the white/grey part, and ideally, as the wedge of the piece grows, so too should the blueish color increase, and eventually take over, perhaps hinting at a bright yellow. To this end I tried to keep the strings from playing “arco”, for as long as possible, because (for no apparent reason that I know of aside from “I just see it that way”) plucked strings are white/grey, and bowed strings have color.

In the end this movement is about growth, and not necessarily the good kind. The main motif; a four note cell first played by the flute, eventually spreads and infects the entire piece. By the end of the movement, all instruments are playing some version of the fragment simultaneously, choking the piece, and abruptly cutting it off.

Favorite X : Y

Facial hair : handlebar mustache.

Here’s the piece:

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