Composer’s visit marks new venture between festival, philharmonic

Based on his résumé alone, landing Daniel Kellogg as composer-in-residence for the 2011 Chamber Music Festival of Lexington seems like a coup.

Daniel Kellogg. © University of Colorado photo by Casey A. Cass.

Daniel Kellogg. © University of Colorado photo by Casey A. Cass.

His commissions range from a piece for the Philadelphia Orchestra to celebrate the 300th anniversary of Benjamin Franklin’s birth to a critically acclaimed composition for the new-music ensemble called eighth blackbird.

But, as has been the case with many of the people with head-turning résumés who have come through the 5-year-old festival, Kellogg, below, will arrive in Lexington this week for a reunion of old friends.

“Nathan Cole and I were classmates at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia,” Kellogg says, referring to the Lexington native who is now artistic director of the festival. “He actually premiered several of my works there when we were students as well as Burchard Tang, who is the violist.”

Kellogg’s visit isn’t just a coup or reunion, though. It also ushers in a new partnership between the festival and the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra, in which both entities will commission new works from a single composer within a relatively short time. Lexington already got a taste of this with Daniel Thomas Davis, the festival’s first composer-in-residence, who brought his 2008 work, Book of Songs and Visions, back to Lexington early this year in an orchestral form with the philharmonic.

That dual presentation was a result of coincidence and several other factors. The formalized partnership in one city is unique in Kellogg’s experience.

“I think it’s terrific because it means that I will get to know an audience over a period of time,” Kellogg says from his home in Colorado, where he is a professor of music at the University of Colorado at Boulder. “They will get to know my musical language, which will hopefully greatly enhance their enjoyment of the music. It’s just fun to go back to the same place a few times to get to know people, to have a sense for the place, and I enjoy getting to know different parts of the country that I’ve never been to before.”

Kellogg says he has just begun work on his piece for the philharmonic’s Feb. 17 concert, but his new work for the Chamber Music Festival, Look Up at the Sky, is ready.

“It’s sort of a musical response to The Little Prince,” says Kellogg, who had been reading the classic book by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry with his 5-year-old daughter. “I had been totally enchanted with the magic of it, the way he writes about things, and that prompted me to thumb through his other books, including one called Wind, Sand and Stars, where he writes about many of his flights and his time in the Sahara desert, which is where he found much of his inspiration for The Little Prince. I thought the way that he finds wonderment in the heavens and the stars and flying — and he captures that in this wonderful book and his writing, which is almost like travelogue but more like poetic essays — was a great inspiration for music.”

Unlike Davis, Kellogg says the idea of composing a variation on the same themes for the orchestra had not occurred to him. He says his composition for the orchestra will be “fast and exciting, but I’m a little too early on to say much about it.”

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