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Composing for the pros: Dominick DiOrio colors Amy Lowell's imagist poetry for Houston Chamber Choir

Composing for the pros: Dominick DiOrio colors Amy Lowell's imagist poetry for Houston Chamber Choir

Commissions are an everyday part of a composer's work. Often, the process goes something like this: Performer likes composer's music. Performer pays composer to write music. Composer delivers a score to performer. Composer is interviewed at a pre-concert chat. Composer listens to the premiere. Composer goes away.

In relationship terms, it's similar to the dating game: Courtship, prenup, wedding, squeeze a newborn, get divorced. 

Of course it's much more complex than that. Cash from foundations, grants and institutions have strings attached. The performer can be a chamber group or a much larger company with fixed needs and deadlines. Revisions and rewrites are likely requested. Before long, the composer is "out of commission."

"When I think of A Dome of Many-Coloured Glass, I think of the Earth, a globe that changes so that every time you look at it, it's different."

Typically, there's a personal connection between the parties. But in the case of composer Dominick DiOrio and the Houston Chamber Choir (HCC), it's all in the family.

It was in 2009 when DiOrio joined the stalls of HCC while chipping away at a doctor of musical arts degree in choral conducting from the Yale School of Music, which he expects to garner in May. He also holds two masters degrees from Yale University and graduated summa cum laude from Ithaca College with a bachelor of music. He teaches at Lone Star College-Montgomery Campus and was commissioned by Divergence Vocal Theater's Misha Penton to write Klytemnestra: The original subversive female.

Musically speaking, DiOrio is one hot date.

Set for 7:30 p.m. Saturday at The Church of St. John the Divine, the Houston Chamber Choir will premiere A Dome of Many-Coloured Glass, DiOrio's first work dedicated to the choir and artistic director Robert Simpson. Also on the program are Christopher TheofanidisThe Refuge and David Ashley White's The Blue Estuaries.

A Dome of Many-Coloured Glass finds its impulse in the poetry anthology of the same name by American imagist and Pulitzer Prize-winner, Amy Lowell. 

"Amy Lowell's words are immediate and visceral," DiOrio explains. "You feel them in your body, you see images. If I can enhance that with the music I have written, I am doing a good job."

 "This is not easy music to sing. It requires a certain flexibility of vocal timber, from loud sonorities with no vibrato to a sense of long legato singing. Few ensembles can do that, the Houston Chamber Choir is one of them."

Scored for marimba, soprano and mixed voices, DiOrio's four-movement work had a partial first listen in January 2011. In "Hora Stellatrix" lovers bask under a vibrant night sky deluged by sultry allusions to the smell of southern winds, tulip cups with dew, sounds of whispering leaves and the awakening of spring. 

Colorful and organic metaphors suffuse the other three movements, "Listening," "At Night" and "A Winter Ride." 

"When I think of A Dome of Many-Coloured Glass, I think of the Earth, a globe that changes so that every time you look at it, it's different," he continues.

Marimba was one of DiOrio's first instruments in high school. Combining it with voices is unconventional. DiOrio sees it as an opportunity to fuse the marimba's innate vocal lyricism with choral forces. It may sound new, but nothing is really new, DiOrio says. 

The marimba part will be performed by Robert Simpson's brother, New York-based percussionist Scott Simpson. 

"When I was writing the piece, I was envisioning a professional level ensemble, " he explains. "This is not easy music to sing as it requires a certain flexibility of vocal timber, from loud sonorities with no vibrato to a sense of long legato singing. Few ensembles can do that. The Houston Chamber Choir is one of them."

For the 27-year-old composer, the challenge of writing for a group he knows so well lies in negotiating the choir's capabilities. 

"Many times I've had to write cautiously wondering if the sopranos will be able to do this, or the tenors can pull off that, " DiOrio says. "I don't worry about that with the Houston Chamber Choir. I felt like I had a full palette of colors available to me.

"The challenge was how to use that as brilliantly as possible."

Houston Chamber Choir's growing number of commissions include works by Angel Lam, Anthony K. Brandt, Michael Horvit, Todd Frazier and Thomas Conroy.

After the premiere in Houston, the ensemble will travel to Beaumont for a performance at St. Mark's Episcopal Church. Then, it's off to Trinity Wall Street Episcopal Church in New York City, Saint Luke's Parish in Darien, Conn., followed by Yale University, DiOrio's alma mater, for a concert and master class in front of his peers and faculty including Theofanidis.

The Houston Chamber Choir presents A Dome of Many-Coloured Glass on Saturday, 7:30 p.m., at The Church of St. John the Divine. Tickets can be purchased online and are $30, $25 for seniors and $10 for students.

News_Dominick DiOrio
In 2009 Dominick DiOrio joined the stalls of HCC while chipping away at a doctor of musical arts degree in choral conducting from the Yale School of Music, which he expects to garner in May. Photo by Matthew Fried
Events_Houston Chamber Choir_Oct 2010
A Dome of Many-Coloured Glass is DiOrio's first work dedicated to the choir and artistic director Robert Simpson.
News_Houston Chamber Choir
Houston Chamber Choir's growing number of commissions include works by Angel Lam, Anthony K. Brandt, Michael Horvit, Todd Frazier, Thomas Conroy, Christopher Theofanidis and David Ashley White. Photo by Jeff Grass