Posts Tagged ‘Paul Fromm’

My First Commission

September 10, 2022

After graduating from Stanford in 1984, I was fortunate to get two big breaks from Earle Brown. I met Earle for the first time at the 1985 BMI Student Composer Awards, where to my surprise he was on the jury that year. I was 24 and had studied his works for many years. If it had not been for Earle, I would not have been invited there.

The piece that got his attention was Pentateuch, a grand divisi orchestral work in quarter-tones, including three choral groups and soprano solo with strong hints of György Ligeti and Iannis Xenakis. Pentateuch was used to fulfill the requirements for my masters thesis. Because of its unwieldy and impractical size (back then, only blueprint shops could make copies of oversize paper and reductions were prohibitively expensive) Earle was the only judge who took the time to open it up and give it a look. ‘I had to fight for your score,’ he told me. ‘No one else wanted to look at it.’ Earle did not mind ‘rolling up his sleeves,’ so to speak. It was serendipity that he was a judge that year. My life changed!

Excerpt from Pentateuch (1983-84)

Shortly after meeting Earle, I received my first commission. Earle presided over the Fromm Music Foundation and asked me to write a piece for sinfonietta (one each winds and brass, percussion, piano and string quintet). The piece, called Trailing Vortices, was based on a musical interpretation of photographs of trailing vortices and other flow phenomena in Milton Van Dyke’s An Album of Fluid Motion. I discovered the book while browsing at the Stanford Bookstore. Milton Van Dyke was a Stanford professor in fluid mechanics and even signed the book for me! I spent the good part of 1986 composing the piece. In a sense, Trailing Vortices is a tone poem, however instead of program music with a story line, photographic images of flow phenomena are musically depicted.

Trailing vortices from a rectangular wing (An Album of Fluid Motion, Milton Van Dyke, 1982).

Trailing Vortices was premiered at the Aspen Music Festival in the summer of 1987. A few months later, it was performed at the Gaudeamus Festival by the Netherlands Radio Chamber Orchestra with Ernest Bour, conducting. Here is the recording of the live performance at the VARA radio headquarters in Hilversum.


Earle Brown | Available Recollections: Peanuts and M&Ms

August 8, 2012

After receiving the Fromm commission, I was invited to attend Paul Fromm’s 80th birthday celebration. At 25, I was the youngest to receive this commission and one of the last while Mr Fromm was alive. Paul Fromm was a refined gentleman – very old school. He built a successful wine and spirits distribution company in Chicago and supported contemporary music like few have.

A concert and reception was given in honour of his 80th birthday at the University of Chicago. Earle was in Europe. The concert consisted of a few composers from the University of Chicago and elsewhere who had from time to time received Fromm commissions.

After the concert, Mr Fromm was “fêted” in a room next to the concert hall with a blend of peanuts, M&Ms, swill champagne (why not pour one of Fromm’s?), and spongy cake. Mr Fromm was gracious, while Maestro Sir Georg Solti was unable to attend. (I was told he had been invited) I marvelled at the absurdity of it all. (It was bewildering why the Universitiy’s composers and Music Department did not pay tribute to Mr. Fromm with an after-concert birthday reception befitting his lifelong generosity towards their music) From time to time, Earle was invited to teach at various forward-thinking institutions. The University of Chicago was not one of them.

Originally published in: “Earle Brown: From Motets to Mathematics” Contemporary Music Review, Volume 26, Issue 3 & 4 June 2007 , pages 371 – 375