Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Orchestra Underground: Sins & Songs Composer Spotlight – Daniel Schnyder

Swiss American composer/performer Daniel Schnyder is as comfortable and gifted with classical chamber music as with avant-garde jazz, and has composed and performed in both fields all over the world. He wrote DraKOOL after seeing a cartoon movie with his children about a monster party at Count Dracula’s Castle in Transylvania. The piece will have its American premiere at ACO's Orchestra Underground: Sins & Songs, Friday, February 27 at Carnegie Hall.

Composer/performer Daniel Schnyder

American Composers Orchestra: You wrote DraKOOL after seeing a cartoon Dracula movie about a monster party with your children. What about this experience and subject matter prompted you write this piece?
Daniel Schnyder: I was invited to Romania to perform in Sighisoara, the birth place of Count Vlad Drakul. When I saw the funny children's movie about Dracula I decided to write a piece relating to the story of Count Drakul, combining fiction and history. My piece does not have an underlying narrative. It is a composition of impressions, or "pictures of an exhibition" about Dracula and our perceptions of him.

ACO: What should the audience listen for during your piece?
DS: It is all explained in the subtitles:
Monster Party (which relates more to the movie) 
- Drakul invites all the monsters to his castle.
Vlad Plays the Organ
- Here Drakul plays a sad song on his old pip organ. Some of the pipes are not working properly and some are detuned. It is a song of a man who cannot die.
Trapped Inside the Spider Net
- Here you can hear the fly that gets trapped inside the spider net and cannot escape. This relates to the spider nets inside the organ and all over Drakul's castle.
Pastorale with a Vampyre
- This is a idyllic picture of a beautiful woman that turns suddenly into a Vampyre.
Mehmed Ante Portas (Mehmed is at the door)
- Mehmed, the Osman, was the big enemy of Drakul. Drakul defeated him and became a hero in Romania. This is now real and not fiction. "Mehmed is at the door" is the translation from the original Latin saying. It was used for the first time by the Romans when the great African leader Hannibale attacked Rome.

ACO: What are you looking forward to about the performance of DraKOOL at Carnegie Hall by the American Composers Orchestra?
DS: I very much hope that the audience will enjoy the music. It is music for all ages and all people. I wanted to write a piece I could share with my kids and all concert audiences. It is extremely challenging for the orchestral players since they have to navigate between American pop culture, Jazz, Turkish music, and modern classical music.

The music is fun to play and fun to listen to, but on another level it is very emotional and sad: it is the tale of a lost soul, the story of a man who cannot die.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Orchestra Underground: Sins & Songs Composer Spotlight – Shara Worden (a.k.a. My Brightest Diamond)

Composer/performer Shara Worden and her pop “alter-ego” My Brightest Diamond headline ACO's Orchestra Underground: Sins & Songs, February 27 at Carnegie Hall, bringing the worlds of cabaret, pop, and jazz traditions into the orchestra concert hall. She will perform Kurt Weill's cult classic The Seven Deadly Sins, as well as her own songs and excerpts from Sarah Kirkland Snider's song-cycle, Unremembered. Shara was kind enough to share some thoughts about her upcoming performance and the program.

Composer/performer Shara Worden

American Composers Orchestra: What are you looking forward to about performing with Orchestra Underground at Carnegie Hall?
Shara Worden: I perform with orchestra a few times a year, and it's always an adventure.  I learn something every time and as a composer it feels like you are working on all cylinders.  Your ears get wider.  Your brain goes into overdrive because there is is much to take in.  It's like flying high with the wind in your face!  Like wrestling an elephant!  Like leaning into a fierce storm and coming out alive!  A great challenge and a great thrill.  

ACO: Why did you choose your songs “Whoever You Are,” “We Added It Up,”  and “Looking at the Sun” over others for performance with Orchestra Underground?
SW: I wrote and arranged "We Added It Up" originally for the American Songbook Series, and at the time I was listening to a lot of orchestration from the same time period as The Seven Deadly Sins, so I really enjoy playing these pieces next to one another.  I see myself as a musical descendent of Kurt Weill, a classical composer who also loved popular songs, and I feel like there is a clear relationship there in this juxtaposition. 

ACO: Is there anything you hope to prove to the audience, or yourself, with the performance of these songs?
SW: Among the infinite things that music is and can be, performance is always staring at one's humanity in the face anew, and the degree of courage and commitment with which one does such a thing in public, is a revelation.   We are expressing what it is to be alive each and every time we make sound.  The stage is a frame: there is before the performance,  during the performance, and after the performance which is just like life, just like not being on this planet, coming to this planet, and leaving this planet.  We express our existence in every show, saying "I'm here right now and this is what it feels like to be here in this moment," and then the moment is gone and the show is over.  Hopefully we said something while we were here.  Hopefully we connect to ourselves and each other.  Hopefully we create something beautiful.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Orchestra Underground: Sins & Songs Composer Spotlight – Sarah Kirkland Snider

Composer Sarah Kirkland Snider writes music of direct expression and vivid narrative that has been hailed as “rapturous” (The New York Times), “haunting” (The Los Angeles Times), and “strikingly beautiful” (Time Out New York). ACO's Orchestra Underground and special guest Shara Worden will perform "The Swan" and "The Witch" from Sarah's 13-song cycle Unremembered at Sins & Songs, February 27 at Carnegie Hall. Sarah was kind enough to share some thoughts about the piece and the upcoming performance.

Composer Sarah Kirkland Snider

American Composers Orchestra: Unremembered features the poetry of New York-based poet Nathaniel Bellows. What initially drew you to his poetry? What prompted you to use his work in Unremembered?
Sarah Kirkland Snider: Nathaniel is an old friend of mine; we met while undergraduates at Middlebury College. Unremembered began as a commission from the vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth. I had been looking for an opportunity to collaborate with Nathaniel for a few years; I think our work shares a sensibility in terms of its lyricism and attraction to shadowed, elegiac, and dramatic narratives. The Roomful of Teeth residency took place at Mass MoCA, which seemed like an ideal place to collaborate with Nathaniel, since much of his work is about his childhood in rural Massachusetts. 

ACO: Shara Worden and Orchestra Underground will perform "The Swan" and "The Witch" from your 13-song cycle. What made you choose these 2 songs over others for the February 27 concert at Carnegie Hall?
SKS: It was partly practical: these songs feature only Shara, whereas other songs in the cycle feature a tenor (D.M. Stith) and/or baritone (Padma Newsome), or all three of them together. Beyond that, I thought these two songs would pair well, as they're of contrasting moods and tempos. "The Swan" begins gently, slowly, with reflection, while "The Witch" is a more raucous and somewhat terrifying affair. And together they represent the larger meaning of the cycle; on the whole, Unremembered is about innocence, experience, and the hard-won wisdom that comes with the passing of time. 

ACO: What should the audience listen for during your songs?
SKS: I guess I think that if I've done my job well, the audience won't have to listen for anything in particular, but can engage with and appreciate the music on different levels, emotionally and intellectually. I strive to create immersive listening experiences where the narrative is vivid and cogent, the details and form are carefully considered, and the emotional impact is direct and immediate. 

ACO: What are you looking forward to about the performance of your music at Carnegie Hall by Shara Worden and Orchestra Underground?
SKS: It's my first time collaborating with ACO, so I'm looking forward to that, and to having my music be part of such an interesting and adventurous program. And it's always an unspeakable thrill to hear my music performed by my dear friend Shara, whose exquisite voice, emotional precision, and dramatic gifts never fail to leave me speechless.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Buffalo Philharmonic EarShot New Music Readings: Composer Q&A - Scott Ordway

Scott Ordway is one of the composers selected to participate in ACO's Buffalo Philharmonic EarShot New Music Readings on February 10 and 11. Scott describes his Symphony No. 3 as "characterized by a sense of open space and gradual unfolding." Read his full program note here.

SoundAdvice is posting a running Q&A with Scott to share his EarShot experience.

composer Scott Ordway
American Composers Orchestra: What was your reaction to finding out your piece had been selected for the Buffalo Philharmonic EarShot New Music Readings?
Scott Ordway: When I first got the call from ACO, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to work with Stefan Sanders and the musicians of the Buffalo Philharmonic, as well as mentor composers Melinda Wagner, Rob Deemer, and Robert Beaser. And as I’ve learned more about the program in subsequent weeks, my appreciation for this opportunity has deepened even further.

In addition to sessions with the conductor and musicians, we’ll have meetings with representatives from many other areas of the orchestra: education, community engagement, marketing, development, and library, as well as patrons, volunteers, and members of the board of directors. We are also slated to meet representatives from national advocacy organizations who will discuss broader aspects of compositional careers and the resources that exist to support them.

What if every composition department in the country built a relationship with their local professional orchestra by regularly inviting orchestra representatives to visit campus and discuss the professional norms and expectations in their field? Bravo to ACO for leading the charge with this type of training.

ACO: What preparations are you making ahead of the readings with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra?
SO: Most of the preparation for the sessions took place in December. I clarified some things in the score and parts and amended a few details that hadn’t worked well in previous performances. I’m looking forward to making further edits after working with the BPO musicians during the sessions.

Follow Scott on Twitter, Instagram, and Soundcloud

Monday, February 2, 2015

Buffalo Philharmonic EarShot New Music Readings: Composer Q&A - Yuan-Chen Li

Yuan-Chen Li is one of the composers selected to participate in ACO's Buffalo Philharmonic EarShot New Music Readings on February 10 and 11. For her piece, On Aldebaran, Yuan imagines a journey under the celestial sky. Read the full program note for On Aldebaran here.

SoundAdvice is posting a running Q&A with Yuan to share her EarShot experience.

composer Yuan-Chen Li
American Composers Orchestra: What preparations are you making ahead of the readings with the Buffalo Philharmonic?
Yuan-Chen Li: I have thought about the EarShot program as a reality check.  One of the most valuable experiences for a composer is to to hear the music interpreted by professional musicians for the first time. When I compose, I never like to use notation software to create midi playback sound as it distracts me from the physics and the acoustics of the sound, the nuance and the expression created by the musicians. To me, it is important to acknowledge the gap between the score and the interpretation, and to learn how to foster positive interpretation effectively resulting in a very expressive performance. The workshop is therefore a great opportunity to learn and to investigate such a gap. Therefore, at the readings I will at first try to hold a completely objective view of my score. My music tends to have a few of layers to form foreground, backgrounds, or something else in between played simultaneously.  And the harmony is often orchestrated and spaced in a special way. Such orchestration requires the orchestra to balance among many instruments with different dynamic markings.

So my preparation was to study my score again, highlighting different layers with different colors, and outlining the dynamics. I also read my score along with a metronome many times in order to be mindful that the momentum and the character of my piece may be changed by the tempo, which in turn needs to be suitable for the physics of the sound and the interpretation. I can improve my writing from here.

ACO: What was your reaction to finding out your piece had been selected for the Buffalo Philharmonic EarShot New Music Readings?
YL: My reaction was feeling so thrilled! It means a lot to me for many reasons. Many thanks to the most prestigious program ACO and to the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.  This is my third time submitting music to EarShot, and my selected piece On Aldebaran is my fifth orchestral work.  It is my hope that the spirit of my composition will no only engage with the musicians, but also be accessible to the audience. I don't mean that it is technically easy to play or stylistically easy to listen to, but something about the kind of collective voice in On Aldebaran should be felt communally.  I was really pleased that my work, for whatever reason, was recognized by ACO and thought to be worthy of performance. I want to thank ACO for selecting my work, and for enabling such a collective voice be brought to the reality. I especially thank them for matching my composition with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.  I have heard a lot wonderful things about this orchestra, and look forward to hearing them soon.

Listen to samples of Yuan's work here.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Buffalo Philharmonic EarShot New Music Readings: Composer Q&A - Cody Forrest

Cody Forrest is one of the composers selected to participate in ACO's Buffalo Philharmonic EarShot New Music Readings on February 10 and 11. Cody describes his piece To See the Stars Again as a "dialogue of alternating theme groups." Read the full program note for To See the Stars Again here.

SoundAdvice is posting a running Q&A with Cody to share his EarShot experience.

composer Cody Forrest

American Composers Orchestra: What preparations are you making ahead of the readings with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra?
Cody W. Forrest: Most of my preparation for the readings actually happened back in December. To See the Stars Again was first read by the New England Conservatory Philharmonia in December 2013. Throughout the next year I made mental edits, waiting for an excuse to make the physical changes in the score. You can imagine my anguish trying to remember every change that crossed my mind in the last 12 months when I received word of the Buffalo readings. There were a lot of small things to change: dynamic nuances—especially in the percussion—and voicings in the brass and string chorales. I also added a very brief violin solo to end the piece, a much needed color in the sparse texture at the end.

The most significant edit I made was the notation of chaotic brass gestures that take over the piece. I have a tendency to over-rhythmicize improvisatory lines—which was the case here. I remember printing the original version’s first trumpet part and thinking, “They’re going to hate me.” An interesting thing happened in the reading—even though the brass parts in this particular section were marked fff, the brass instead came across mp. I realized my notation was impeding their confidence, and in their attempt to play their parts perfectly, the effect was completely lost. I struggled for months to find a solution that would allow the brass to keep a confident, intense sound yet still keep both the improvisatory effect and the orchestra temporally coordinated. I experimented with Corigliano-esque boxes and actual improvisation, among other failed attempts. The solution that arose was actually quite straight-forward: converting my overly rhythmic gestures into simpler rhythms with grace notes. This cleaned up the notation while maintaining the brazen, chaotic effect I intended.

The next step in preparation for EarShot was proofreading the score and parts. Thankfully, I had fairly clean copies of both, only needing to make small edits based on the sections of music that had gone through changes—or so I thought. This spiraled into about 20 hours of engraving work that needed to be done, followed by Bill Holab’s detailed engraving notes. Printing day came, and thanks to the bird-of-prey-like vision of my friend, Kathryn Salfelder, we were able to catch another volley of minute engraving errors—another 4 hours editing what I thought was a near-perfect set of parts—and they’re still not perfect. We rewarded ourselves with 8 hours of tape binding.

The lesson here is: we (composers) always make mistakes—notation mistakes, orchestration mistakes, and especially engraving mistakes, but thanks to incredible (and patient) musicians, our music comes alive despite them. I can’t wait for this to happen at the EarShot readings!

Oh! Almost forgot—I’m also doing laundry. Lots and lots of laundry…

ACO: What was your reaction to finding out your piece had been selected for the Buffalo Philharmonic EarShot New Music Readings?
CF: I was surprised when I received word that my piece had been selected for the Readings. As an emerging artist, it is humbling to receive this honor, especially in such a competitive field. I am excited to be part of the EarShot New Music Readings and very much looking forward to hearing the work of my colleagues, attending the professional development workshops, and working with Stefan Sanders and the musicians of the Buffalo Philharmonic!

Follow Cody on Soundcloud

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Compose Yourself! Reading of New Student Works

The American Composers Orchestra Education Department wraps up its Winter semester of Compose Yourself! with a reading of new student works on Friday January 30th, 1:30-3:30pm at the Yamaha Showroom (689 Fifth Ave., 3rd Fl - entrance on 54th Street).

Compose Yourself! is an opportunity for ambitious high school composers to develop their skills and find their voice through regular classes, readings, and special activities such as attending ACO rehearsals.

Our upcoming reading session will also feature one composer each from Celia Cruz High School for Music in the Bronx, Frank Sinatra HS for the Arts in Queens, and Talent Unlimited HS in Manhattan. This past semester ACO provided each of these schools with introductory composition classes taught by Education Director, Kevin James.

Our many thanks to the Yamaha Corporation for providing us with a beautiful venue for these reading sessions.

Buffalo Philharmonic EarShot New Music Readings: Composer Q&A - Jay Hurst

Jay Hurst is one of the composers selected to participate in ACO's Buffalo Philharmonic EarShot New Music Readings on February 10 and 11. His piece Still Lives explores the contradiction of interconnectedness and isolation created by technology in two contrasting movements. Read the full program note for Still Lives here.

SoundAdvice is posting a running Q&A with Jay to share his EarShot experience.

composer Jay Hurst

American Composers Orchestra: What preparations are you making ahead of the readings with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra?
Jay Hurst: A large part of my preparation has been figuring out how I can help to keep the rehearsals running as efficiently as possible. My job in preparing the score was to make sure the notation was as clear, concise, and as question-free as possible – but, just in case, I’ve been going through the score with a fine-toothed comb, anticipating any and all possible points in the piece where there may be questions from the conductor or the orchestra. Time is a valuable commodity in these reading situations, so the faster I can help answer any technical questions about notation or technique, the quicker the performers can begin to really dig into the piece and make music.

ACO: What was your reaction to finding out your piece had been selected for the Buffalo Philharmonic EarShot New Music Readings?
JH: Totally elated! You know, it’s difficult enough for young composers to have one of their pieces performed and heard, especially if they decide to go and write a piece for orchestra. But to have a group of size and stature like the BPO spend the time to read and perform your first full-fledged orchestra piece is a dream come true. I feel honored and privileged to be a part of the EarShot Readings this year and I can’t wait to work with such high-caliber composers and performers.

Follow Jay on Twitter and SoundCloud

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Orchestra Underground: Monk's Sphere Composer Spotlight – Loren Loiacono

Loren Loiacono, a young composer of extraordinary talent, synthesizes her childhood experience playing with Barbie’s Dream House and her later discovery of Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloe in the NYC premiere of Stalks, Hounds at Orchestra Underground: Monk's Sphere on November 21 at Zankel Hall, Carnegie Hall. Loren was kind enough to answer a few questions about the creative process behind Stalks, Hounds.

Composer Loren Loiacono

American Composers Orchestra: What was the inspiration for your composition?  Can you tell us about your creative process for this piece?

Loren Loiacono: As goofy as it may sound, the inspiration for Stalks, Hounds was a computer game I played as a kid, where whenever you clicked on various things, it would be accompanied by this harp-flourish sound effect.  Years later, as a teenager, I heard Maurice Ravel's Daphnis et Chloe for the first time, and was stunned to realize that the harp "sound effect" was, verbatim, taken from a gesture in that piece.  It struck me as odd how that particular phrase had been completely isolated from its original musical context, and had been turned into something completely, for lack of a better word, inane.  (I think I'm probably not alone in this experience – there is plenty of music that I heard as part of cartoons or games re-contextualized as used for a different purpose.)  In particular, I wanted to explore the idea of that gesture, not as an organic part of its original musical whole, but as a stock sound, that could be summoned with a click.

ACO: Are any of the musical gestures you decontextualize in this piece borrowed from anything a listener could recognize?

LL: The most obvious gesture is the Daphnis quote. The opening of the piece very closely replicates the experience I had of that flourish accompanying every computer click (including, if one were to click too quickly, the gesture becoming truncated).  Other than that, the materials I used were all very simple, even cliche (descending scales, circle of fifth harmonic progressions, etc.), but used in a way in which things are slightly askew.

ACO: What are you looking forward to about the performance of your piece at Carnegie Hall by the American Composers Orchestra?

LL: Everything! Hearing an orchestra play your music is always an exhilarating experience to begin with, but this time is particularly exciting.  What I'm most excited about, though, is to hear how ACO is going to interpret the piece.  The piece has only been played by one orchestra (it was premiered by the Yale Philharmonia in 2011), and so for the last couple of years, the way I think about the piece has been completely tied up with how they played it.  This piece is particularly close to my heart, as well, so hearing another orchestra play the piece, and particularly one as well-attuned to the nuances of contemporary music as ACO, will be like discovering a whole new side of Stalks, Hounds.

ACO: What should the audience listen for during your piece?

LL: I'd say the best things to listen for are how each of the gestures introduced is derailed: the harp flourishes that keep getting overtaken by strings and percussion, the descending scales that get stuck on the way down, and, most notably, the piano/vibraphone groove that can't quite seem to find its footing.

Follow Loren on FacebookTwitter

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Orchestra Underground: Monk's Sphere Composer Spotlight – Meredith Monk

Meredith Monk, 2014-2015 Richard and Barbara Debs Composer’s Chair holder at Carnegie Hall, is a composer, singer, and creator of new opera and music-theater works. A pioneer in extended vocal technique, Monk has been called "at once fearless, unique, [and] uncompromising" by The Washington Post and "one of contemporary music's great innovators" by The Classical Review. Monk kindly shared with us the creative process behind Night, a rare orchestral work which will be performed at ACO's Orchestra Underground: Monk's Sphere on November 21 at Zankel Hall, Carnegie Hall.

Meredith Monk

American Composers Orchestra: What was the inspiration for your original composition, Night, for ten voices, two keyboards, violin and French horn? Can you tell us about your creative process for this piece?

Meredith Monk: My daily practice is working at the piano. Sometimes I like to explore different scales. One day in the early ‘90s I started playing with one that turned out to be a Hungarian minor scale, and I began developing material inspired by the particular dissonance inherent in those sounds.

At that time, the former Yugoslavia was in the midst of a bloody war. I had been on tour there a few years before and was struck by the natural beauty of the region in contrast to what was now going on. At the same time I began thinking about suffering in the broader sense.

As with most of my work, I begin from an intuitive place and try to access something both timeless and contemporary. Night was one of those works that came to me as a full fabric. While I think of it as an elegy, it also evokes the sturdiness and resilience of life.

ACO: What prompted you to re-orchestrate Night for a larger ensemble? Can you talk about any of the specific choices you made in selecting the new instrumentation?

MM: I think of myself primarily as a vocal composer and have always thought of the voice as an instrument. As the years go on, I have become more and more interested in the idea of instruments as voices, and in combining voices and instruments to find new sounds. I recognized that for Night to have its full power, it needed the richer colors and textures of an orchestra. Using unusual instruments such as shakuhachi, bowed psaltry and harp played with a guitar pick allowed me to explore new timbres and to think of the group of instrumentalists as somewhere between an orchestra and a band.

ACO: What should the audience listen for during your piece? 

MM: I’m hopeful that people will engage with it on different levels. I try to create an open space for each member of the audience to experience the work in his or her own way, affirming the power and uniqueness of each person’s imagination.

Follow Meredith on FacebookTwitter, YouTube