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Blank Regeneration

A Richmond composer keeps it fresh by playing around.

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The most recent work by Allan Blank, shown here at his home, is an opera based on Thomas Hardy's novel, "Jude the Obscure." The composer's Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano will be performed by the Richmond Chamber Players this week. - ASH DANIEL
  • Ash Daniel
  • The most recent work by Allan Blank, shown here at his home, is an opera based on Thomas Hardy's novel, "Jude the Obscure." The composer's Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano will be performed by the Richmond Chamber Players this week.

Every day, Allan Blank sits down at the same piano, the same music stand, the same computer. But what happens next is never quite the same.

"Every work is a new beginning," says Blank, a composer who lives in Bon Air. "Sometimes I sit down and I say, 'What comes next?'"

Blank is 86 and has more than 300 compositions to his name, many of which are archived at the Diehn Composers Room at Old Dominion University. If he wanted to compose by formula, he could. But, as one suspects in conversation with him, Blank has more fun when he plays around with music. He laughs often, inserts a leading smile in the middle of a sentence, jumps up to find an Edward Lear poem in a book. His sentences take detours like a melodies modulating into a new key.

"I've written for every instrument in the orchestra — the flute, the clarinet. ... The clarinet is one of my fav —" He corrects himself without even taking a breath. "— They're all favorites of mine. Maybe I haven't written for the sarrusophone — No, maybe I have. ..."

Sometimes when he's wondering what comes next, Blank says, he'll plan out a few pieces of rhythm. Two or three notes of a melody "will allow me to jump from what I like to something larger. It's a way to tease the creativity out of my brain."

When talking about his music, Blank carefully doesn't describe it as lyrical. But he says his style is influenced by the voice, the first instrument for which he wrote, and the violin. "The lyric element that's close to me ... [is] one of the strains that informs my thinking, if not my music."

Blank, who taught composition at Virginia Commonwealth University from 1978 to 1998, also has written works for orchestra, band and choir. His most recent piece, which he worked on during the course of three years, is an opera based on the Thomas Hardy novel, "Jude the Obscure." It hasn't been performed yet, but Blank says it's under consideration.

Additionally, his body of work includes chamber music for many different combinations of instruments. The Richmond Chamber Players will perform his Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano on Aug. 14 at Bon Air Presbyterian Church as part of their Summer Interlude series.

Blank's wife, the artist Margot Blank, died several years ago after an extended illness. Her paintings, prints and photographs hang in nearly every room of the house, and the floors of the two rooms that she used as studios are stacked with more works. He seems to know exactly which pile any given piece of art is in. One painting in the living room shows Blank, much younger, sitting on a lakeshore. He is neither melancholy nor happy — he seems placid while he looks directly at the painter with the water behind him.

"I love humor," the composer says, before stopping himself to reconsider. "I like to keep my eyes open for things that are light, that are a digression from the way the world is." S

The Richmond Chamber Players perform music by Allan Blank, Béla Bartók and Leo Smit at the Summer Interlude concert on Sunday, Aug. 14, at 3 p.m., at Bon Air Presbyterian Church, 9201 Huguenot Road. $16-$18. Admission is free for children. For information call 272-7514, ext. 312.

Editor's Note: In the print version of this story, we incorrectly stated the years that Blank worked at VCU. This has been corrected in the online version. We regret the error.

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