Chicago-based composer Dan Visconti laughs at the idea that some might think that, because of his training and profession, he only listens to classical music. You know, when he’s not locked away in some ivory tower decked out in a white wig, quill pen scribbling away with frenzied genius.
In actuality, Visconti works to dispel these old ideas of what a composer is and readily admits to being a big fan of rock and punk music, which is one reason he was so excited when ROCO’s Artistic Director Alecia Lawyer commissioned him to write something in honor of local punk rock legend Christian Kidd of The Hates.
Visconti says he has always been a fan of The Hates, who were among the first punk bands he heard – along with British groups like the Sex Pistols and The Clash, and California’s Dead Kennedys – but it wasn’t until he learned more about Kidd’s difficult battle with cancer and his relationship with his wife Alexis, that he realized that what would connect his piece most to classical music was the love poetry Kidd has written for her.
“It took me back to the world of ancient troubadours and minstrels and it made me realize that in some ways Christian, although he certainly looks like a punk, he has a heart of gold,” says Visconti. “He’s a modern-day punk-rock minstrel.”
For Legendary Love, premiering during ROCO’s annual conductorless concert, Visconti found himself inspired by medieval balladry and the idea of a love that is epic and eternal. Though he says the piece has some punk rock influences, it also has some influences from that ancient world that suggested certain melodies, modes and instrumentation, like troubadour harps and lutes.
Visconti says it was important to him to connect Kidd and his music to something that was eternal to honor not only him, but also his relationship with Alexis and the beautiful art that has been created as a result of their relationship. It was also important to do this in a way that would feel authentic, especially to Houstonians.
“I think that whenever we’re looking to honor a local legend, I think that a time of crisis is when we most come to appreciate an individual’s contributions. It really became clear to me in conversing with Christian just how important Houston was to his own development in the same way that it seems like Christian and The Hates are so important to Houston,” says Visconti.
“[This ROCO commission is] not just a chance to write a piece about a subject that really interests me, but it’s a chance to do something that has meaning to the local community in a way that this piece would not have the same impact in New York or Los Angeles.”
Legendary Love will be performed as part of ROCO’s current season, “Cultivate Curiosity,” a theme near and dear to Visconti’s own heart (and a concept he broached in a 2014 TED talk), because he believes curiosity, in a world of YouTube and Netflix, is what brings people to a classical music concert.
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“We have so many wonderful recordings of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, hundreds, and I’m sure that the experience of listening to any of them on my hi-fi at home without listening to an audience member next to me unwrap a cough drop is probably superior,” says Visconti. “I find that what really makes people [leave] their comfy house and see a classical music concert is curiosity. It’s a sense of ‘come see something that you’ve never seen before’ or ‘you know what, we’re going to commission a composer to honor one of the most seminal and important figures in punk rock and we don’t know what’s going to happen. Come and figure it out.’”
One thing Visconti does know for sure?
“I ended up living in the world of The Hates for many months and it’s a very cool place to be.”
Legendary Love is scheduled for 5 p.m. on February 10 at The Church of St. John the Divine, 2450 River Oaks. For more information, call 713-665-2700 or visit roco.org. $15 to $25.