Prodigy works on new piece for Kronos

by Laura Romain | 11/21/05 6:00am

In January, Dan Visconti, 23, received a telephone call coveted by more than 300 emerging composers worldwide, notifying him that the "Kronos: Under 30 Project" had selected him to compose a piece for the acclaimed Kronos String Quartet to debut at Dartmouth's Hopkins Center for the Performing Arts.

"I was so sure that it was a prank," Visconti recalled, "that I didn't bother to call back for an hour or so, until finally I thought better of my oft-unreliable gut feelings and returned the call." By the end of the day, Visconti had eagerly accepted the offer. "When I was growing up, I became absorbed in the Kronos Quartet's visceral and adventurous recordings in much the same way that many adolescents obsess over the albums of the great, iconic rock bands," he said. "I'm unbelievably thrilled for a chance to work with the ensemble that, more than any other, reflects my hopes of all that music can be."

Founded in 2003 to support talented young artists and to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the famously visionary Kronos String Quartet, the "Kronos: Under 30 Project" annually commissions a new piece by a composer under the age of 30.

Following their premieres at the Hopkins Center, the works of past winners Alexandra du Bois and Felipe Perez Santiago have been performed and successfully received at numerous major venues, including Paris's Theatre de la Ville, Chicago's Ravinia Festival and New York's Carnegie Hall. Kronos violinist and Artistic Director David Harrington praised Visconti, recipient of the project's third commission, saying, "Every once in a while, you hear a voice that you feel has something to say that you haven't heard before."

In addition to his unique musical vision, Visconti boasts impressive credentials, including a Master of Music degree in composition from the Cleveland Institute of Music, where he studied with Margaret Brouwer, Orianna Webb and Zhou Long; a faculty position in the Young Composers Program at CIM; artist residencies at both Copland House and Villa Montalvo and a number of prestigious awards from the BMI Foundation and the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers.

Despite the obvious bragging rights these entail, Visconti very unaffectedly and casually describes the progress of his work for the "Kronos: Under 30 Project" and his life as a musician in general in his weblog, which is hosted by the Hop's website. By writing in his blog, Visconti says he hopes to extend many of his insights to what he terms "the 'outsider' -- that is, the interested layperson, amateur or young composer who'd like to tear open this whole convoluted process called composing and see what makes it tick."

Visconti readily juxtaposes offbeat slang like "totally jacked" and mild profanity with profound reflections and advice for aspiring composers, including, "When one composes, it's useful to draw a clear distinction between two modes of thinking: the creative and the critical." He describes with similar eloquence his meetings with the "Kronos Krew," his pursuit of a Master of Musical Arts degree at the Yale School of Music and the various sources of his inspiration, which span from rock and the electric underground to classical and jazz, fusing his experience as an electric guitarist with his training as a classical violinist.

Visconti offered, "For the composer today, the whole gamut of style and genre is available for inspiration or outright plundering, while the individual composer's personality as expressed in his or her peculiar way of dealing with those materials has, to me, become more dogmatic and limited." When the Kronos Quartet debuts the "Love Bleeds Golden" string quartet, however, the audience can expect Visconti's composition to transcend all limitations through a mixture of electronic ingenuity and a musical plotline that incorporates melody, exposition, climax and "ghostly, claustrophobic strands," a thematic culmination of the diverse influences on his uniquely eclectic style.

Tickets are available through the Hopkins Center box office for the world premiere on Saturday, January 14, 2006 of Dan Visconti's "Love Bleeds Golden" by the Kronos String Quartet. Prices are $28 for the public and $5 for Dartmouth students.