TRANSITIONS & the hum
There are times in life when one starts to hear a certain hum. It begins as a faint buzz that can occasionally be tuned out, but then crescendoes to a point where it no longer can. At a young age I was extremely fortunate to win a position in one of the great ensembles of the world, the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. My life was instantly transformed; artistically, socially, financially. I got to perform masterpieces on a regular basis; Otello with Domingo, Tosca with Pavarotti, and Die Rosenkavalier with Fleming. We toured the world in charter planes and stayed in luxury hotels. My good friend James Ehnes and I moved into a bachelor pad in the sky where we grilled on a terrace overlooking the Hudson, threw multiple parties, and each kept cars in the garage. Life was grand for the first few years as a working musician in New York. And then I started to hear the hum. That little sound that tugs on your heart, on your mind, and lets you know that there is a missing piece to your puzzle. That there is a need for change.
To turn down the hum, I looked down some rabbit holes and barked up some trees. Traded in the uptown high rise for a downtown artist loft (artist loft = crooked floors, no dishwasher, and plenty of vermin), I started a band and recorded an album, and took a year off and moved to New Zealand. But these were all temporary fixes and like a boomerang, I kept returning to the Met. My musical life was becoming like the film Groundhog Day (with a better soundtrack). Sure, I could squeeze in the occasional performance and recording with a band, or play a chamber music concert on a rare day off, but my time and energy was being owned by the opera. With my soul running on fumes, I was quickly becoming that thing I despised most as a young cellist, a jaded and crotchety orchestral musician.
So I began to write music. I didn’t call myself a composer at first because that word seemed far too serious. Mozart was a composer, I was merely writing music. In the beginning it was just for some commercials and a few short films, and then the opportunities started to open up. Before I knew it I was working around the clock, pulling all nighters at my studio and making compositional edits on a laptop during intermissions of performances. I was beginning to turn down projects that I really wanted to take on, but simply couldn’t due to the double life that I was leading. Composer by day, cellist by night. The good news was that as my creativity started to expand, the hum started to fade. The bad news was that I couldn’t keep the pace up any longer. I found myself at a crossroads and it was time to make a change….
After 14 seasons with the Met orchestra, I ended up playing my final performance in Tokyo on June 19th, 2011. The opera was La Boheme (one of my favorites) and after the last note sounded, something unique occurred. The entire company gathered on stage to wave goodbye to the Japanese audience. There was confetti falling from the ceiling and I was surrounded by all of my colleagues; stage crew guys, singers, dancers, and of course my many close friends in the orchestra. I thought to myself “man, if there was ever a way to go out, this is it!”. I took a leave of absence later that summer and began composing full time.
To give up a tenured position in one of the great orchestras of the world was a big step (my Dad and my accountant were skeptical) but to feel an inner voice being silenced by the hum of repetition was something I couldn’t live with. It’s now been almost a year since I’ve sat in a symphony orchestra and I’m still getting used to the adjustments. For instance, having my evenings free (so many bars, so little time!) However, my new musical life has many more variations, unexpected twists, and challenges to it. In this past month alone I’ve been lucky enough to have orchestrations performed by Orpheus Chamber Orchestra on Live from Lincoln Center, a new chamber music piece performed at BAM by yMusic Ensemble, and the premiere of a film that features a score I wrote for Brooklyn Rider and Anthony McGill. Next month I’ll be playing my first cello recital in over 10 years and this summer will be putting the finishing touches on an EP with my friend Abe Seiferth. Things are busy, things are good, and most importantly, that hum is gone. For now.