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Tristan Foison (*1961): Violin concerto

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Author Topic: Tristan Foison (*1961): Violin concerto  (Read 1355 times)
« on: December 16, 2012, 10:58:06 am »

continuation of the story...

Yet there were problems.

The Atlanta Community Orchestra, a volunteer group, commissioned a violin
concerto from Foison in 1998. Beth Newdome, an ASO violinist, was the
soloist and John Morrison the conductor. "We paid him four grand for that
piece," Morrison said. "The funny thing is that it was like he didn't write
it for us - there was too much music for us to learn in our rehearsal time.
And he wouldn't make any changes to accommodate us. We were in over our
heads. I recall that at the end he even asked for the score back."

As music director of the Rome Symphony in northwest Georgia from August 1995
to January 1998, Foison continued to live in Atlanta. "Some of us were taken
in by his charm," says Bayne Dobbins, the orchestra's principal French horn
player for the past 20 years. But he remembers Foison's work as
unacceptable. "As we waded through the first piece at that (first)
rehearsal, a Wagner prelude, he was unable to control our tempo or cue us.
Every concert was a disaster."

Mary Ann Bray, executive director of the Rome Symphony, says Foison was
music director for a little less than half of his five-year contract. She
would not discuss particulars of his departure, other than to say it was
"under amicable circumstances." She added that Foison was hired by a search
committee that had never heard him conduct but was dazzled by his resume.

Looks great on paper

That resume impressed a lot of people.

One short biography, written by Foison and found on the Internet, lists the
following elite achievements: "winner of the 1987 Prix de Rome . . . First
Prize in the Leningrad Conducting Competition, 1989; First Prize in the
Prague Conducting Competition, 1985; First Prize in the Busoni Piano
Competition, 1980; as well as numerous other prizes."

But the Prix de Rome, a historically important prize for French composers,
was last awarded in 1968, nearly two decades before Foison claimed to have
won it. The Busoni, Italy's most prestigious piano award, is held on an
irregular basis; there was no competition in 1980.

What boosted Foison's aura the most, perhaps, were his claims of a special
relationship with Olivier Messiaen (1908-92), one of the most original
composers of the 20th century and one of the most influential teachers in
music history.

In a 1993 interview with the Journal-Constitution, Foison boasted that
Messiaen was like a "spiritual father" to him and that the elderly composer
had written a hefty piano work for him. Foison also said he had studied with
Messiaen's wife, the celebrated pianist Yvonne Loriod, from age 5 to 17.

Yet in a book cataloging Messiaen's pupils (La Classe de Messiaen by Jean
Boivin, 1995), there's no Tristan Foison mentioned - though there is a
Michele Foison, who Tristan has told friends was his mother. The woman cited
in the book was a Messiaen student at the Paris Conservatoire from 1967 to
1971. And Foison told the Journal-Constitution that his mother, too, was a
conductor and had also won the Prix de Rome. Neither mother nor son is found
on a list of Prix de Rome winners. Tristan kept work attributed to Michele
Foison nearby, however. Among the various manuscripts he lent to friends in
Atlanta were photocopied works with her name on them.

Asked about his own connections to Messiaen and Loriod, Foison remained
silent. Asked whether he had ever met them, he hung up the telephone.

An elusive center

On his resume, Foison mentions studies with legendary choral conductor
Robert Shaw as his reason for coming to Atlanta. Yet Shaw's assistant for 26
years, Nola Frink, says Foison "might have attended a few open rehearsals,
but he was not Shaw's student."

Gradually, Foison met the leaders of the Atlanta musical community. ASO
concertmaster Cecylia Arzewski attended a dinner party where Foison cooked
(she remembers his chocolate mousse as the most delicious she'd ever had).
But, she says, she never could quite figure out what he was doing in
Atlanta. "People typically reveal themselves to you, but he never did. He
was pleasant, charming, a nice-looking guy. I tried to talk with him, but I
couldn't get a sense of him. I could never find his center."

On the day he met Carole Jacobsen in the early 1990s, Foison asked
permission to write something for her. What he produced for the
mezzo-soprano with the ASO Chorus was a spare, ethereal song, scaled to the
compass of her voice.

A bond soon developed: He played his ondes martenot at Jacobsen's daughter's
wedding, and Jacobsen's husband, Carl, was the narrator in Foison's L'Enfant
Musique ("The Music Child") at a concert in 1994. On visits to Foison's
apartment, Jacobsen saw piles of sheet music and composition pads scattered
about, an upright piano and two ondes martenots - evidence of a working
musician. "I looked around and figured, 'Here's a genius who can't market
himself,' " Jacobsen recalls. And she pieced together that he had moved to
Atlanta because "he needed to get out from under maman's skirt."

The last time they spoke, about a month before he left Atlanta, Foison told
Jacobsen, enigmatically, "I know this sounds strange, but I really believe
all this will turn out to be a very positive thing for me."

Binkholder, the Washington choral conductor, says that when he first checked
into the accusations, he was "praying that it wasn't true because I knew it
would totally destroy Tristan's life. But it's like he did it knowing he'd
be caught. This whole thing has brought up more questions about him than can
be answered."
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