Julie Barwick on Revisiting Compositions from her Student Days

half moon

Half Moon by Topi027 CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia

Elevate’s next concert includes a beautiful solo cello piece called Media Luna, by composer-in-residence Julie Barwick. We asked Julie to tell us a bit about the piece, which is an earlier work from her student days, and talk about how it differs from her current writing.

What was the inspiration for Media Luna?

Media Luna or “Half Moon” comes from the title of a short Federico García Lorca poem (from Primeras canciones written in 1922).

I thought the poem succinctly and beautifully captured the dark, slow mood of the low cello notes in this piece.

The musical material is based on several short motives introduced in the first phrase and expanded upon with different colors and techniques in each subsequent phrase.

Photo of Lorca as a young man

Photo of Lorca as a young man

When did you write the piece?

Media Luna was written in 2005, as an assignment for my very first composition class as an undergraduate at UC Berkeley. To date, Media Luna is my first and only piece for solo cello. I still really like it, so I was happy to have it on this program.

For most composers, there are only a handful of their student pieces that they’d really want performed again. What is it about this piece that is special to you?

That is absolutely true!  While I don’t remember the details of my thought process while writing this piece, I do distinctly remember that this piece came fairly easily, and this usually means a better piece for me. Hearing it now, this piece has a satisfying arc that I can still appreciate.

Because so much time has passed since writing Media Luna, I am also a lot more forgiving. When I am in the middle of intensely working on a piece, I hear every perceived flaw and can be very critical. But after some time has passed, I can approach my music with a more rational ear, almost as if it were written by a different person.

Do you think this piece still sounds like you, or does it sound like a completely different phase of your life?

In a way, both. While the harmonic language is definitely different, and there are some spots that don’t feel native to me anymore, I still relate to my treatment of the musical material.

Media Luna is focused on exploring timbre, which is not something I do quite as much these days. But the form still really resonates with me, and I can easily imagine what I was thinking at the time.

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You can hear Media Luna on Elevate’s March 10 concert, Old Girls Club.