Nothing Could Have Been Finer

My North Carolina weekend gigs were a pleasure, and I had a wonderful time with composers Mikel Rouse, in Chapel Hill, and Lawrence Dillon in Winston-Salem. With the latter, at the North Carolina School for the Arts, I performed with the Philidor Percussion Quartet (which I will put on my resume from now on) in my Snake Dance No. 2. The piece is one of my perennial exercises in playing complex rhythms in unison, and I had forgotten how much I love performing in it.

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Professor Dillon, whom I’ve corresponded with for years but had never met in person before, has written his own complimentary account of the event, so gracious that I won’t even make any of the jokes we had contemplated pulling on each other.

At the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill I saw Mikel Rouse’s new opera The End of Cinematics – actually, I’d been familiar with the music for seven years, but his operas take so long to come into production that this was only first staged a year ago at the Krannert Center. The work plays at Brooklyn Academy of Music this week. Go see it: in addition to featuring Mikel’s intricately structured pop songs, it uses an elaborate set with live actor/dancers in front of huge video monitors and behind a scrim on which both live and prerecorded film is shown, using theater to comment on the film medium in ways that perplexed and delighted the audience I saw it with. Though the piece takes shots at commercial culture, it is less directly political than Dennis Cleveland, and its mystery makes it something of a Rorschach test for the audience.

My purpose there was to speak about Mikel on a symposium beforehand, for supporters of the arts in Chapel Hill. Once it was over, we were to dine with the guests, and the organizer caught my arm and said, “Hodding Carter III wants you at his table.” Those my age will remember the name, and Google reminded me that he was assistant secretary of defense under Jimmy Carter, afterward president of the Knight Foundation; and I found myself surrounded by former employees of the Carter White House, who spent the meal trading eye-opening personal anecdotes about Bill Clinton. I won’t repeat any of them, but I found my company more impressive than they had any reason to find me.