Composer 
to perform, 
talk music downtown

Last modified: 6/3/2015 7:07:07 PM
Composer Scott Wheeler has had a soft spot for The MacDowell Colony since his first Fellowship in the spring of 1985. In fact, he and his wife purchased a home in the Boston suburbs in part because its back room faced a screen of pines that reminded him of MacDowell’s peace and solitude.

“When the kids were young and I was in that room working on a deadline,” he said, “my wife would tell them, ‘Daddy’s on MacDowell.’” The phrase was code and Wheeler’s daughters understood he shouldn’t be interrupted. His experience as a MacDowell Fellow helped him focus deeply for years after being in residence.

At this Friday’s MacDowell Downtown, Wheeler will share a variety of original works composed while at or “on” MacDowell. In addition to performing several solo piano pieces composed in the manner of famed composer Virgil Thomson — from life — Wheeler will also present video excerpts from recent ballet and opera.

The piano pieces he’ll perform this Friday were written using an exercise learned from Thomson, who composed many short pieces in the same manner as a visual artist sketching a portrait. Wheeler strives to capture the spirit of a sitting model in musical expression. “It’s a special kind of personal exercise,” said Wheeler. “Thomson said, ‘the discipline of spontaneity is the hardest discipline of all.’”

Currently on sabbatical from Emerson College where he teaches in the performing arts department, Wheeler has just arrived for his fourth MacDowell residency to work on his fourth opera. “Naga” is part of a trilogy of operas with librettos by Cerise Jacobs. The first, “Madame White Snake,” was composed by Zhou Long and went on to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2011.

This second installment was co-commissioned by Beth Morrison Projects and Boston Lyric Opera, and is expected to premiere in September of 2016.

“It’s a big story based on a Chinese folk character,” said Wheeler. “It includes creation myths and murder.”

And while Wheeler has developed the discipline to work on such large projects over a 40-year career, he said, “The solitude afforded by MacDowell is crucial. It’s the key to getting three times as much done as anywhere else. It’s amazing.”

It’s not just the solitude, though, that makes possible such creative capacity.

“The community here is essential,” said Wheeler. “I think if I didn’t have the community aspect, then I would drive myself crazy.”

To hear the works of imagination augmented by MacDowell’s solitude and community, please come to the Monadnock Center for History and Culture tomorrow at 7:30 p.m.




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