Lawrence Dillon: Chamber Music



Ransom Wilson, Flute


Jeff Keesecker, Bassoon


Cassatt String Quartet


Borromeo String Quartet


Mendelssohn String Quartet




Chamber Music by


Lawrence Dillon




The Legacy of Postmodernism


An artist's role is to help make sense of our lives, to bring the world of experience and the world of imagination into balance. Each artist finds his or her individual path to this balance; their composite efforts cast an illuminating gaze back on the observer.


As with many artists who came of age in the late twentieth century, my path has been heavily influenced by the principles of postmodernism. As defined by Charles Newman, postmodernism is “the violent adjacency of pure expressivity and pure accessibility, which reflects more often than not an atmosphere of intense demoralization.” In part, this “demoralization” was an outgrowth of the overwhelming success pop culture enjoyed in its efforts to reduce art to its lowest common denominators. The ease with which a four-minute, single-themed song can provide rapid gratification has made it seem unnecessary to develop an attention span for anything more challenging.


Discouraged by the resulting complacency I found in listeners, I took up postmodernism's banner, championing pointless segues: I composed works in which Chopinesque harmonies were spliced into klezmer wailings, which just as suddenly morphed into rock-and-roll rhythms in a melange that mimicked the random associations commonly found in commercial television. My early musical forms were intentionally intuitive, illogical and jarring.


As happens with all stylistic trends, after a time, the novelty of postmodernism wore thin. Having mastered the easy jump cuts, it became too tempting for me to use them to mask a wide range of inadequacies, from poor craftsmanship to a simple lack of ideas.


The three compositions on this album grew out of my increasing dissatisfaction with postmodernist techniques. Connected to so many surfaces, I found myself longing for depths. I began composing works that contained clear connections with Western musical tradition, both because of my love and respect for the greatest accomplishments of Western music, and because I felt that a growing number of people had lost touch with that amazing heritage. The result was a series of works — including Furies and Muses, Devotion, and Jests and Tenderness — that combined Western music traditions and popular idioms in nontraditional ways. Unlike the shocking disjunctions of postmodernism, however, the works on this recording aim for a seamless fusion, a common ground between genres where similarities convey specific meanings, and distinctions become irrelevant.




In Classical mythology, the furies and muses had clearly distinguished roles: the furies exacted revenge through ingenious torments, the muses were shepherdesses to the arts and sciences. In pre-Classical times, however, this distinction was not so clear. The earliest sources indicate that the furies and muses were both aspects of the same goddess in her creative and destructive phases.


Furies and Muses is a musical juxtaposition of violence and elegance: throughout the piece, aggressive gestures are suddenly transformed into phrases of great delicacy, and vice versa. In many cases, the affect of the music is only thing that is changed, i.e., the gestures retain all of their structural characteristics, but with completely different expressive results.


The four movements — sonata, aria, scherzo, rondo — all use traditional forms in nontraditional ways. The sonata-form first movement, rather than resolving the differences between its themes, drives them further apart from one another. The second movement is an aria about the desire (rather than the ability) to sing. And while the scherzo that follows fits comfortably within the Classical ABA mold, the music is cartoonish in character, with a mock-heroic duet for cello and bassoon in the middle section.


In the final movement, a distant chorale in the strings is answered by a drunken parody of contemporary pop music. A narcissistic fugue exposition follows: each instrument insists on playing nothing but the subject. After the development and intermingling of these three themes, the piece concludes with a furious bacchanal.


Throughout the quintet, the number three plays a prominent role, particularly through the use of meters, 3/4, 3/8, 3/2, 9/8, etc. This numerological consistency is another reflection of the mythological source: the original furies and muses were always described as trinities, only later becoming trinities within trinities, numbering nine each.


A word about the instrumentation: traditionally, the bassoon has been relegated to the role of orchestral clown, mostly because of its ability to articulate rapid passages with startling clarity. As a result, many listeners are unaware of the supple beauty of its tone, which allows it to blend splendidly with almost any other instrument, while still serving as a very effective solo voice. When the bassoon is grouped with a string quartet, the resulting sonority is quite attractive — very rich and dark.


Furies and Muses was commissioned by the 1997 Swannanoa Chamber Music Festival, and premiered there by Jeff Keesecker and the Cassatt String Quartet.






In a world devoted to overstatement, Devotion is a single-movement work that hews closely to a very simple theme in an unassuming manner. Composed in Medieval clausula form (a type of variation in which the melody is intertwined with fragments of itself), the piece uses the flute to state its theme with three increasingly fervent variations. The three string instruments, playing the intertwining fragments, are muted and bowing over the fingerboards throughout, hovering around the flute melody in a subdued testament to fidelity.


The blend of compositional techniques in this piece, drawn from six centuries of musical evolution, conveys a sense of stylistic timelessness, resulting in a work that seemingly originates outside the course of music history.




Composed in the summer of 1998, Jests and Tenderness is a meditation on the Classical scherzo. Traditionally, the scherzo (Italian for “joke”) is a fast, jovial movement in three sections. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, composers took advantage of the scherzo movement as an opportunity to play jokes on the listener, on other composers, or even on the performers themselves.


In more recent times, inquiries into the anthropological and psychological roots of humor have taught us that a “joke” is often more than it seems: humor has many uses, from promoting cooperation to veiling hostility. The quip that serves to relieve tension in one setting can easily increase tension in another. One of our most versatile coping mechanisms, humor is a weapon that wounds and heals.


Jests and Tenderness digs beneath the aggressive edge of humor, revealing what is left behind when the energy has been stripped away. Accordingly, the first three movements are scherzi — though their forms vary, they are all relentlessly brisk, capricious, and even, at times, manic in character. A wide range of comic treatment is featured throughout, from subtle parody to blatant slapstick.


The first movement pokes fun at two different musical cliches: first the abrasive monotony of contemporary popular music, then the elitist pretensions of the current classical music scene. These two poses become the contrasting ideas in a sonata form that attempts (and fails) to resolve the conflicts between them.


Most everything about the second movement — the triple meter, the ternary form, the rapid tempo, the frequent hemiolas — is typical of a classical scherzo. The only neoteric wrinkles are in the edgy harmonies and odd phrasing: the entire movement is cast in eleven-bar groups, which makes the pacing unpredictable and a little ungainly.


A brief but vigorous fugue, the third movement pushes beyond the limits of decorum, where wit devolves into hyperactive energy. The conclusion culminates in a cadenza for the viola which leads directly into the last movement. With a duration as long as the middle two movements combined, this final nocturne is both a response to and a consummation of the preceding frenzy. Its four sections evoke the serenity and mystery of the night, with a coda that fades off into silence. While the first three movements seek to exhaust the energy of humor, the last seems to ask “How should we respond to aggression?” — a question that is, in both its personal and social forms, both timely and timeless.






Composer Lawrence Dillon (b. 1959) has produced an extensive body of work, characterized by a keen sensitivity to color, a mastery of traditional forms, and what the Louisville Courier-Journal has called a “compelling, innate soulfulness.”


The youngest of eight children raised by a widowed mother, Dillon grew up Summit, New Jersey, a comfortable suburb thirty miles outside of New York City. His earliest memories are of a house filled with the sounds of older siblings practicing the piano. At the age of seven, he began his own lessons, and quickly developed the habit of composing a new work each week.


In 1985, Dillon became the youngest composer to earn a doctorate at The Juilliard School, winning the coveted Gretchaninoff Prize upon graduation. As a student, he also won an ASCAP Young Composers Award and first prize in the annual CRS New Music Competition. He studied privately with Vincent Persichetti, and in classes with Milton Babbitt, Elliott Carter, David Diamond and Roger Sessions. Upon graduation, he was appointed to the Juilliard faculty.


In 1990, Dillon was offered the position of Assistant Dean at the North Carolina School of the Arts, where he is now Composer in Residence and conductor of SACE, the School of the Arts Contemporary Ensemble. He has composed several concertos, an opera, numerous works for orchestra, choral pieces, and music for diverse chamber combinations.


Dillon is represented by Jeffrey James Arts Consulting. His music is published by American Composers Editions.




Associate Professor of Bassoon at Florida State University since 1991, Jeff Keesecker holds a Master of Music degree with honors in bassoon from The Juilliard School and graduated summa cum laude from the Florida State University School of Music with a Bachelor of Music degree in bassoon performance. In the fall of 1997 he served as Principal Bassoonist of the St. Gallen Sinfonie and the St. Gallen Opera in St. Gallen, Switzerland, and taught at the Jugendmusik-schule der Stadt St. Gallen. He has also served as principal bassoonist in The Florida West Coast Symphony, The National Repertory Orchestra, and Solisti New York; has been on the faculty of the Utah Music Festival; and has performed at numerous festivals, including the Waterloo, Sarasota, and Aspen Music Festivals. Professor Keesecker is principal bassoonist of the Tallahassee Symphony, a member of the Opperman Trio, and in summers is bassoonist with the Swannanoa Chamber Festival.




Muneko Otani, Violin


Jennifer Leshnower, Violin


Tawnya Popoff, Viola - Caroline Stinson, Cello


Hailed as one of America's outstanding young ensembles, the Manhattan-based Cassatt String Quartet has performed throughout North America, Europe, and the Far East, with prestigious appearances at New York's Alice Tully Hall and Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, the Tanglewood Music Theater, the Kennedy Center, the Theatre des Champs-Elysees in Paris and Maeda Hall in Tokyo. The group has frequently been heard on WGBH, WQXR and WNYC, and has also presented programs on CBC Radio and Radio France.


Formed in 1985 with the encouragement of the Juilliard Quartet, the Cassatt initiated and were the inaugural participants in Juilliard's Young Artists Quartet Program. Their numerous awards include a Tanglewood Chamber Music fellowship, the Wardwell Chamber Music Fellowship at Yale (where they served as teaching assistants to the Tokyo Quartet), First Prizes at the Fischoff and Coleman Chamber Music Competitions, two top prizes at the Banff International String Quartet Competition, the 1995 CMA/ASCAP First Prize Award for Adventurous Programming, and a 1996 recording grant from the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust.


The Cassatt has recorded for the New World, Point, Albany, Tadzik and CRI labels.




Ransom Wilson hails from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and was educated at the North Carolina School of the Arts and The Juilliard School. For post-graduate work, he was an Atlantique Foundation scholar in Paris for a year, studying privately with Jean-Pierre Rampal. His other flute teachers have included Alain Marion, Sandra Taylor, Lawrence Morgan, Philip Dunigan, Severino Gazzelloni, Julius Baker, Christian Lard, and Arthur Lora. He has appeared with major orchestras around the world, and played in recital with many of the greatest musicians of our time.


Mr. Wilson is also an orchestral conductor of growing reputation, and he is the founder and conductor of Solisti New York Orchestra, as well as the Artistic Director of Oklahoma's OK MOZART International Festival. He has been guest conductor of many prestigious ensembles, including the Houston Symphony, Hall Orchestra, Orchestra of St. Luke's, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, and the Metropolitan Opera. His conducting teachers have included Roger Nierenberg, James Dixon, Otto-Werner Mueller, and Leonard Bernstein.


He has recorded 30 albums as both flutist and conductor, and was three times nominated for the “Grammy” award. Other awards he has received include the Alabama Prize from the New York Times Foundation, and the Award of Merit in Gold, from the Republic of Austria. He is an Artist Member of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, and is Professor of Flute at Yale University, as well as Music Director of the orchestra at the Idyllwild Arts Academy, and Artistic Director of Oklahoma's OK MOZART International Festival.




Nicholas Kitchen, Violin


William Fedkenheuer, Violin


Mai Motobuchi, Viola - Yeesun Kim, Cello


Formed in 1989 by four young musicians from the Curtis Institute of Music, the Borromeo String Quartet has established itself as one of the most important string quartets performing today.


The Borromeo Quartet “combines every 20th-century virtuoso ensemble virtue with an old-world sense of color, character, and style” (Richard Dyer, Boston Globe).


Winning top prizes in the 1990 International String Quartet Competition in Evian, France, the Quartet went on to win the 1991 Young Concert Artists International Auditions and made its New York and Washington debuts on the YCA series at the 92nd Street Y and the Kennedy Center, respectively.


The Quartet has since appeared throughout North and South America, Europe and Asia at numerous festivals and on many distinguished chamber music series. In September 1998 the Quartet was named as recipient of Chamber Music America's prestigious Cleveland Quartet Award.


The Borromeo String Quartet recently completed two seasons as a member of Chamber Music Society Two, the emerging artists program of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. The Quartet has also had a long-standing relationship with the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, where it has appeared multiple times each season. Fittingly, the Quartet completed its first Beethoven Cycle at the Gardner Museum in the spring of 2000. The city of Boston has become home to the group where the Borromeo Quartet serves on the faculty of the New England Conservatory of Music as Quartet-in-Residence.




Miriam Fried, Violin - Nicholas Mann, Violin


Ulrich Eichenauer, Viola - Marcy Rosen, Cello


The Mendelssohn String Quartet has established a reputation as one of the most imaginative, vital and exciting quartets of its generation. The Quartet tours annually throughout North America with regular trips to foreign destinations. The Mendelssohn Quartet was for nine years the Blodgett Artists in Residence at Harvard University and continues as Artist Faculty at the North Carolina School for the Arts, where they also perform several times each season.


The Mendelssohn String Quartet has performed at such distinguished venues as Carnegie Hall in New York City, Washington D.C.'s Kennedy Center and Library of Congress, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Wigmore Hall in London and the Tonhalle in Zurich. The resident quartet of the Eastern Shore Chamber Music Festival and formerly resident quartet of the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, the Mendelssohn Quartet also makes frequent appearances at New York's Mostly Mozart Festival and at the Ravinia, Aspen, and Saratoga Music Festivals. They were the first American ensemble invited to appear at the International Dialogues Festival in Kiev, Ukraine.


Distinguished guests who have appeared with the Mendelssohn String Quartet in recent years include pianists Claude Frank, Ursula Oppens, Peter Serkin and Menahem Pressler, sopranos Phyllis Bryn-Julson and Lucy Shelton; violinists Jaime Laredo and Robert Mann (on both violin and viola), violists Scott Nickrenz and Michael Tree; cellists Carter Brey, Bonnie Hampton, Sharon Robinson, Janos Starker and David Soyer; and clarinetists Richard Stoltzman and Charles Neidich.










Cover and Compact Disc Art


Frank Stella, “Flin Flon III,”1969


© 2002 Frank Stella / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York












This recording was funded in part by support from the


Mary Duke Biddle Foundation,


the Winston-Salem Arts Council,


the School of Music of the North Carolina School of the Arts,


and anonymous donors.


All works recorded by Judith Sherman Productions.


Furies and Muses was recorded 18 February 2001 at the Purchase College Conservatory of Music Recital Hall Purchase, NY; Devotion was recorded 8 December 2000 at the American Academy of Arts and Letters; Jests and Tenderness was recorded 21 October 2000 at the Purchase College Conservatory of Music Recital Hall Purchase, NY.


Art Direction:Bates Miyamoto Design


Graphic Designer:Lianne Webster


Photo of Jeff Keesecker by Jay Henry Fair


Photo of Cassatt String Quartet by Peter Schaaf


Photo of Ransom Wilson by Christian Steiner


Photo of Borromeo String Quartet by Susan Wilson


Photo of Mendelssohn String Quartet by Christian Steiner


Photo of Lawrence Dillon by David Amundsen










chamber music by Lawrence Dillon




Furies and Muses (1997)


1 SONATA: Allegro moderato e agitato [7:55]


2 ARIA: Andante flessibile [7:40]


3 SCHERZO: Presto energico [4:50]


4 RONDO: Lento - Allegro giocoso [8:45]


Jeff Keesecker, bassoon


Cassatt String Quartet


5 Devotion (1996) [6:30]


Ransom Wilson, flute


Borromeo String Quartet


Jests and Tenderness (1998)


6 SCHERZO I: Sonata [8:25]


7 SCHERZO II: Scherzo [4:35]


8 SCHERZO III: Fugue [5:00]


9 Nocturne [10:30]


Mendelssohn String Quartet


Total Time = 65:01