By Tony Spano, Jr.
As Founder and Artistic Director of Pacific Serenades, Mark Carlson has led a quiet revolution in new music. By reaching out to audiences with programs and performances designed to be inspiring and moving, Mark has helped transform perceptions of new music by leading the commissioning of 68 new chamber works for Pacific Serenades since its inception. Hearing these alongside masterpieces of the repertoire, audiences consistently have been touched by the beauty and depth of the new work premiered on each of our programs.
You can find Mark Carlson's biography, composition catalog, discography and more here.
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For more information about the music of Mark Carlson, please contact him at this address.
Mark's newest composition will be premiered on our May 2004 concerts. His Sonata for viola and piano was inspired by the friendships between Mark and the musicians, as Mark shared with me. "Initially, the motivation for this piece was just that I wanted to write a sonata for my friends and colleagues Roland Kato and Joanne Pearce Martin, who are also close friends with each other."
But recent world events began to affect the specific nature of the piece. "As I started to settle into the piece, serious talk of war had begun, and the music gradually became my response to the coming of war," Mark stated. "After coming of age during the Vietnam war and the war protests of the Î60s, I naively believed that we had seen the end of war. I'm extremely sad and dismayed that, for whatever reason, good or bad, we still have to resort to war today. With the approach of war in Iraq, I found myself confronted with fears of its ongoing consequences and of the potential loss of so many things I treasure. Whether the piece is ultimately about this or not, I could not help having these thoughts and fears influence my composition."
Mark described the first movement as elegiac. "It is fragmented, full of minor chords and disjunct melodies. The music is troubled, fearful, questioning."
The second movement, Mark explained to me, "is sort of a war dance, beginning with music in the piano that evokes wild and aggressive drumming and which accompanies a fast and virtuosic viola part. This music alternates with equally fast but more lyrical and troubled sounding music."
The final movement is a "prayer of supplication, a prayer for peace," Mark said. "Its primary tune has the flavor of a folk song. It repeats a number of times in different guises, as if pleading, and is finally responded to with a poignant and consoling melody."
Mark told me, "I don't really mean for this piece to be a political statement about war but rather as a reflection of my own tumultuous feelings about it. Composing during this time made me think a lot about the issues surrounding war and what it means in these modern, complex times."
In addition to this piece, Mark has been as busy as ever composing music for a variety of musicians and organizations. His work Suenos y canciones (Dreams and Songs) was composed in 2001 for Signos, a chamber ensemble in Mexico City. "Signos is made up of flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and double bass, and all of the players are members of one of the national symphonies in Mexico City," Mark told me. "They commissioned six works, three from the U.S. and three from Mexico, that were to reflect the opposite culture. The resulting CD, Espejo (Mirror), has just been released, and at the release party in April, they chose to perform my piece as the representative work from the United States."
Over the last two years Mark has been composing choral music almost exclusively. A major commission from the Boston Gay Men's Chorus resulted in a piece called Welcome Winter! with lyrics by former Pacific Serenades Board President Bruce Olstad.
Having now returned to writing instrumental music, Mark will also have a work for alto saxophone and piano premiered on May 4 by UCLA graduate student Alan Durst.
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