Posts tagged new music
On failure and redemption.

image“This will be our reply to violence: To make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly, than ever before.” -Leonard Bernstein

Last month, I had an epiphany in the shower: Instead of writing the ensemble piece I was asked to write for St Louis students, I would write a piece related to the recent shooting of the St Louis teenager Michael Brown. The topic spoke to me more than what was originally planned, and when artists can do what they want, rather than what they are asked, the work is usually more meaningful. Presumptuous?

I began researching the events and discovered Michael Brown’s rap songs. Many of them were vulgar, but I decided to take a melody he had used and based an entire piece around those eight notes.  The aim wasn’t to glorify his crude raps, but to represent him aurally. The hope was that teens from all over the city would perform it and the whole community could come together across racial and socioeconomic lines to reflect on the situation in a healing and thoughtful way. Audacious?

Two weeks later and I had something…something I am very proud of. There is a reading by Du Bois to contextualize the racial aspect, and I gave players the option to raise or not raise their hands as they finish playing, in the hope that they could have a conversation about their choice. The fact is, people of good faith can -and do- have differing opinions about Ferguson, but I felt everyone would appreciate what I was trying to do. Naive?

But my perspective as a New Yorker didn’t anticipate just how tense and divisive things in St Louis are right now. And there are so many factors involved in having teens perform: Administrators, teachers, students and parents all have to be for it. Then there are all sorts of considerations for the presenting organization: Will we alienate members? Be seen as taking sides in this polarizing issue? How will the media portray this (e.g. “Presenter Showcases Vulgar Rap Song”)? We fought the good fight, even changing aspects of the piece to assuage objections (this is a whole other subject), but in the end, the difficulty in getting it performed as conceived became overwhelming. Failure.

UPDATE: So when at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. I went back to the drawing board and through luck, grace, and the hard work of certain individuals I’m grateful to, the piece will be premiered by Duo Noire at the Alliance of Black Art Galleries in St Louis. Now the real work can begin.  Redemption.

Great 1st Review for "FIGMENTS" album.

From the popular new-music blog I CARE IF YOU LISTEN:

“a unique and entrancing album that exists at the unusual intersection of minimalism and impressive classical guitar technique.”

“The impressive technique displayed by Duo Noire is perfectly suited to Lustig’s delicious compositions, and you wouldn’t regret getting a hold of this; if you like acoustic guitar, bluegrass, minimalism, blues—or music at all—you’ll definitely enjoy this excellently produced and mastered album.”

And you can pick up a copy, or digital files, here:

CD Baby, iTunes.

This is the music video from our new album of Raymond Lustig’s “Figments.” It’s one of my favorite movements from the set of 6. Beautiful slow outer sections with virtuosic craziness in the middle (~1:35). We shot this on a roof in Harlem on what turned out to be the windiest day of the spring. Music stands were flying, hair was blowing, but I’m really happy with how this turned out and am so proud of this album. You can get it at iTunes and CD Baby.  

New Album! FIGMENTS!


Thrilled to announce that our debut Duo Noire recording has been released. It’s a 35 minute collection of pieces written for us by the acclaimed Juilliard composer Raymond Lustig. This CD is the culmination of a 7 year collaboration and friendship and I am SO PROUD to be on it. The music is cutting edge and totally original, but still accessible, virtuosic, and just all around interesting and fun. Music video coming soon, but until then, check it out here: CD BabyiTunes.

Just published in the newest issue of Soundboard by the Guitar Foundation of America: New York, NY (New York Minute) composed and performed by Thomas Flippin. Depicting a hectic day-trip to Manhattan beginning at Grand Central Terminal, progressing through increasing levels of chaos, and concluding back at the safety of a Grand Central train seat, headed home.

This past weekend I had the great privilege of premiering my first guitar duet in the esteemed Brooklyn Conservatory of Music as part of a benefit concert. I was joined by the wonderful guitarist Madeleine Davidson, who commissioned the piece for the event -as well as several other wonderful musicians who contributed that day. 

The piece is called Ten Kingdoms and is based on the writings of the 16th century Spanish friar Bartolome de las Casas, who famously documented the atrocities committed by the Spaniards in the Americas. After a friend on facebook posted a video citing his writings, I immediately bought his work “A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies” and couldn’t put it down. He begins the book by mentioning how “no fewer than ten kingdoms” had been completely depopulated and then goes on to describe the process and events that led to this devastation. A pretty amazing history lesson you probably skipped in school. 

At the concert, we premiered the first movement, which is based on the text: “Those that arrived from the remotest parts of Spain…and who pride themselves in the name of Christians.” It imagines the excited feelings of those Spaniards setting off on the perilous and naive voyage for riches in the New World; completely oblivious to the events that await them and the natives. 

The audience seemed to really enjoy the work; with its inappropriate joyfulness and dark subtext. I’m very grateful that it was so well-received, and I’m even more excited now about finishing the other movements I’ve sketched out, as soon as I get some more time and knowledge. Until then…Thomas

Chicago IllinoisChicago, Illinois - It’s finally done! A few weeks ago I got serious about finishing my piece Scenes from America and devoted all of my free time towards completing the Chicago, Illinois movement. I’m very happy with it and definitely think the tons of rewrites and time that went into this were worthwhile. This movement took me a good year to fully realize, delayed my CD, and generally caused me a ton of anxiety and grief throughout 2011. Sheesh! 

I think it took so long because Chicago is a very special place for me. I lived there for four years while I was getting schooled (literally and figuratively) at the University of Chicago. I spent countless nights taking in the local jazz clubs, symphony shows, and theater productions. I gave my debut recital at Chicago’s Smart Museum. I was in Chicago when I learned that my mother had died, and it was in Chicago that I met and later married my wife. Needless to say, Chicago and I have HISTORY, and it took time to put that history into the music.

The piece is an homage to one of my favorite composers, jazz bassist Charles Mingus, and it was also inspired by the work I’ve done with soprano Alicia Hall Moran and pianist Jason Moran. All three of them seamlessly blend classical music and jazz into a unified and original narrative and have been huge inspirations for me. As a result, the piece starts and ends with a basic jazz head but morphs into a more intense classical baroque texture in the middle. This texture gets increasingly complex and modern (paralleling my university music studies) and then we are brought back to the opening theme. After this recapitulation, an exotic scale run blows in and takes us away (from the city, from loved ones, and from my adolescence). At least, that’s the story I hear. 

So, Scenes from America Vol.1 is done. CD coming soon. Hopefully the next piece I write will come a little easier and be a little less heavy- perhaps some Romanza variations :-).- Thomas


New York, New York. This is the next piece in my Scenes from America series. Last fall, I was asked to write a piece for the wonderful NYC guitarist Kenji Haba. I decided to write one about the city since I had been spending a lot of time there. It’s fitting that I did since I ended up moving to Manhattan mere days before Kenji premiered this work in a city church (pictured below).

The piece tries to do three things. It tries to convey the idea of a “New York Minute,” to juxtapose the calm sanctuary of the Grand Central trains vs. the claustrophobia and chaos that I feel once I am bombarded by the exiting crowds, and to express the unrelenting industrial drive that could create and sustain such an empire. Basically, it’s a day-trip to the city.


Although my music has been performed before, this was the first time I was actually able to be in the concert audience, and it was a wonderful experience. It was also an honor to be involved with Vox Novus and the great work they are doing for new music and homeless advocacy at Jan Hus Church. All in all, having my piece “New York, NY” premiered in NYC the week that my wife and I moved here made for a nice welcome to our new home. So far so good.

Salt Creek Beach

Salt Creek, California - This is something I’m working on. It’s a movement of what will eventually be a set of sketches called “Scenes from America”. This movement is called “Salt Creek, California,” which is a beach from my adolescence that I have (mostly) fond memories of (pictured to the right). The outer sections use alternating measures of 7/16+5/16 which can also be heard as ¾ with syncopated accents (4+3+3+2; but that’s messier to write). 

This was commissioned by Yale alum and Canadian guitarist Bruno Roussel for a repertoire book he is publishing in Canada. More coming soon, let me know what you think! 


UPDATED 3/8/2011:  

A friend once told me “if you don’t like a piece, make it better." I’ve since decided to revise this piece to better reflect the range of feelings I have about Salt Creek beach in California. So, this is the new draft I’m working with. A bit more contemplative and longing than the original: Walks with girlfriends as the whitewash nips at your feet, dropping into a wave at daybreak, philosophizing about life over a bonfire, watching the sunlight spread across the water as it sets, and nostalgia for relationships come and gone. I think that’s all represented here now in a way it wasn’t before, and I hope you agree that it is in fact, better.  

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