The Draylen Mason Composer-in-Residence program honors the memory of Draylen Mason, a promising young Austin musician killed in 2018 by the Austin package bomber. The first and current holder of that residency is Quinn Mason, based in Dallas.
His orchestral music has received performances in the US by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony and Utah Symphony Orchestra, so it was a special treat for a select few in Austin to hear the world premiere of his composition entitled 22.
In an interview for Sun News Austin, I asked Quinn Mason what he meant when he described 22 to the audience as a “deep” piece. “It was such a deep subject. We have here a deep and dearly departed musician and today he would have been 22. Me being 26 and made it past that I can’t even imagine what his life would have been like had he made it to my age. Just contemplating that really helped influence the melodic and harmonic content if this composition. “
Asked about what musical influence inspired 22, he said “Really, I took influence from myself. I like to sit down an improvise at the piano a lot, and this is something I imagine I would have sat down and if I were just like given a free minute – especially after an event such as that – that’s probably what I would have improvised.”
On participating in the KMFA Composer-in-Residence Program with Mason, musician Lara Downes said, “I’m thrilled to give the world premiere of this new piece by one of the most brilliant young composers working today! Quinn has a distinct and heartfelt musical voice that speaks profoundly to the future of American music. It’s so exciting that KMFA is harnessing all the power of the radio medium as a driving cultural voice both in the community and on the national arts scene, and I’m so happy to be part of this visionary project to honor Draylen Mason’s legacy in such a meaningful way!”
I asked Draylen Mason’s grandfather what he thought of the composition Quinn wrote in honour of Draylen. “I enjoyed it very much. It was positive. In May we had an opportunity to meet Quinn and spend some time with him. I was telling my wife that if my grandson was living I think they would be very close, very good friends because they have so much in common. I was hesitant about coming tonight because I didn’t want to open up a lot of stuff, but I’m glad I did.”
The composition 22, roughly 7 minutes long, brought to my mind the famous 1621 book Melancholy by Robert Burton. As a deep, meditative lament it certainly works, but at least some in the audience found it to be a work of drudgery, with randomly linked together chords of lower-register sound.
Downes also performed another work by Quinn. Part of the Goldberg Variations she performed, this one was titled Refracted Goldberg. I found it had a marvellous cinematic quality, as if the music was filtered through a lens. It was certainly more playful and engaging than the other two variations by Jennifer Higdon (quite flowery) and Fred Hirsch (rather artificial and less pleasing to the ear).
With a sensitive understanding of the tragedy facing Texans now, Downes altered the programme to play Summerland by Still, and A Change is Going To Come, an old classic by Sam Cooke. Her pianistic excellence made the evening a truly moving experience.
The second performance of 22 will be held tonight at the Draylen Mason studio in the building of Austin’s classical music radio station, KMFA. Tickets are available at KMFA.org