During intermission at a recital, Dylan Mattingly bounded over to his red and black-trimmed bag and pulled out a huge manuscript. Its spiral-bound cover mimicked an atlas, and within it was a score-in-progress for the composition he’s been working on for most of the last two years.
At twenty, Mattingly may be young in his composing life, but his music roams deep into the by-ways of American music. Among other influences, including Olivier Messiaen, John Adams, and Magnus Lindberg, he cites “Joni Mitchell, and the old American blues and folk field recordings of the Lomaxes.”
Mattingly lived in Berkeley, California, until he came east to attend Bard’s Conservatory of Music. The titles of some of his compositions reveal the pull of home. The subtitle of Lighthouse, for example, is “Refugee Music by a Pacific Expatriate.” In this evocative piece, I can hear fog slipping into San Francisco Bay. Barges pass under the Golden Gate Bridge while gulls soar overhead; passers-by lean on the railings, staring over the water, into space.
The notes, rhythms, and tonal colors of Mattingly’s music spin out associations with centrifugal force. On listening, for example, to Going to Where the Rain Falls, I’m transported to a levee, following along behind a backcountry band that’s been playing all night but ain’t done yet. There’s a fellow with a fiddle resting on his shoulder, and someone pushing an old ebony upright with its stool perched unsteadily up top. Someone else lifts a trumpet for a desultory blow, another grips a clarinet, another holds a flute.
There’s a troupe of them, ambling along as the sun comes up. They slide into place in a ragged circle, and the piano player plunks out a fractured blues-y phrase or two. They lift into music and fall out again. They take their time, noodling around until they've summoned up energy enough to let out a manic rush of notes. Almost at the last, a freight train, its whistle blowing, sets the tracks clacking, and the players lay down their instruments to listen. They catch hold of its pitch and rhythm and join the train’s music as it fades away.
Mattingly’s music travels ever onward, exploring new terrain: from one coast to the other in the United States, and now to points on the Atlas of Somewhere on the Way to Howland Island. The fine ensemble Contemporaneous describes the piece this way:
This epic and beautiful forty-minute poem for chamber orchestra is an emotional depiction of Amelia Earhart’s final journey. You can hear Earhart's journey in the music: her engine revving, crossing the endless blue, a stop in Tahiti, an elegy at the tragic end to the flight. The finale, though, features an incredible build to an overwhelmingly jubilant climax that sends Amelia's spirit out into the stars.Entire strands of American music live in Mattingly’s compositions, but his is not a nostalgic venture. Mattingly carries the American vernacular with him to create music that’s ebulliently his own. On September 24, I look forward to accompanying Mattingly and Contemporaneous on the next voyage out—into the stars.
Contemporaneous is premiering Atlas of Somewhere on the Way to Howland Island at Bard and in Brooklyn, New York:
Saturday, September 24, 2011 at 8:00 pm
Chapel of the Holy Innocents, Bard College
Sunday, September 25, 2011 at 8:00 pm
Galapagos Art Space, DUMBO, Brooklyn, New York
The program, entitled The Roots Run Deep, also includes performances of Gabriella Smith’s Kisiabaton and Shawn Jaeger’s Letters Made With Gold. To learn more about the program, click here.
<<<>>>Credits: The image of Dylan Mattingly at the head of the post can be found here, on his engaging and informative website. The provenance of the photograph of Amelia Earhart at the end of the post is unknown. The quotation from Dylan Mattingly can be found here. The quotation from Contemporaneous can be found here.
Audio of works by Dylan Mattingly, including Going to Where the Rain Falls, can be found here.