World Premieres with the Juilliard Orchestra

Mount Mayon erupting, 1928

Check out this article on the Juilliard Journal about the upcoming Juilliard Orchestra concert featuring new music by four Juilliard composers including myself. As with all things of this nature, there were a few inaccuracies in the first version of the article, not the most surprising of which was my real last name being misspelled—which is precisely why I’ve discontinued using it for publicity. That error has since been corrected, but there remains another, more complex one that I’m not quite sure how to deal with: a supposed connection between my piece and the “concept of home.” When you’re in a foreign land and trying to create an identity, any connection to a home tends to get amplified. Yet, while I took inspiration from a story from my birthplace, it’s been a long time since I sincerely thought of my birthplace as home, and I approached my source material more as a fascinated outsider—except I thought my sheer irreverence legitimized somehow by my heritage. Hence, for better or for worse, you will hear no Philippine tunes, no deliberate indication of anything Asian in my piece, unless you choose to hear it—there’s nothing to stop you; that’s the beauty of it all.

In any case: the concert will be on Tuesday, April 28th at Alice Tully Hall, with Jeffrey Milarsky conducting. I’m equally excited to hear the music of my wonderful colleagues here at Juilliard; you should be too!

Here’s the program note I submitted to the publicity folks:

Magayon means “beautiful” in the Bicol language of the Philippines, and it forms part of the name of Daragang Magayon—literally “beautiful maiden”—the central character in the origin myth of Mount Mayon, an active volcano that overlooks my birthplace: the Philippine province of Albay. According to the myth, Magayon, having previously rejected many powerful suitors from distant villages, was set to marry the chieftain Ulap. But as preparations began for a grand, feastly wedding, the jealous hunter Pagtuga intervened, holding Magayon’s father hostage and setting off a brief but deadly skirmish.

When all of the main characters died—most tragically Magayon herself, who was hit by a stray arrow—the entire village went from celebratory anticipation of the wedding to mourning. The maiden was laid to rest on a grave next to her husband-to-be, which the villagers were alarmed to find rising higher and higher each day, accompanied by earthquakes and muffled rumblings of the earth. At last a crater formed, spewing hot ash and rocks.

My piece is concerned less with depicting the myth in its entirety and more with the emotional journey that the story evokes. I kept in mind Mount Mayon’s near-perfect cone in shaping the piece: its three sections (fast–slow–fast) are of roughly equal length and form an almost symmetrical arc, flowing seamlessly from one to the next. I also place less emphasis on the tragedy of the myth, and more on my own sense of wonder toward the mythology of my home country; hence, the piece, though brutal at times, ultimately comes to a triumphant close.