Friday, March 21, 2014

Orchestra Underground: Border Vanguards Composer Spotlight – Marcos Balter

Composer Portrait: Marcos Balter

Praised by The Chicago Tribune as "minutely crafted" and "utterly lovely" and The New York Times as "whimsical" and "surreal," the music of composer Marcos Balter (b.1974, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) has been featured at ACO’s SONiC Festival in 2011, Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart Festival, Chicago Symphony Orchestra's MusicNOW, Köln Philharmonie, New World Symphony Center, Teatro de Madrid, Tokyo Bunka Kaykan, Teatro Amazonas, Morgan Library, Le Poisson Rouge, and the Museum of Contemporary Art of Chicago, among others. Here he tells us about his piece Favela, which ACO will premiere during Orchestra Underground: Border Vanguards on April 4, 2014 at Carnegie Hall. 

American Composers Orchestra: What inspired your work, Favela? 

Marcos Balter: It really came from the word itself. Favela is the Brazilian word for shantytowns. Although the term was coined after a Brazilian plant, I could never separate it in my head from the Latin word fabola (story). That always made me think of the many individual stories within a favela that we don’t hear, and of the actual nature of a shantytown: a community formed by circumstances rather than will, often created from found objects that are piled together until they make sense as world. This idea of artificial oneness and how we all figuratively live in favelas was really my main source of inspiration. 

ACO: How would you describe your composition process for the work? 

MB: Gruesome! I usually spend a lot of time thinking of the idea behind a work. That can take many months, even years sometimes. And, I don’t start writing until I can hear the music in my head, but then the piece is born very quickly. But, while I had the concept down early on, I just couldn’t hear music coming from it. I was about to change the concept itself when one day it just hit me at once that I was approaching it wrongly. I was trying to find linear strategies when the lack of lines was actually my only hope to create the illusion of one as I wanted. Once my head started thinking of how to fragment things rather than unifying them, everything else made sense, and the work was finally born.

ACO: Did you encounter any unusual challenges in writing this work? If so what were they and how did you resolve them?
 

MB: When ACO invited me to write a new work, they told me it would be premiered in a concert focused on Latin America. And, that on itself was an interesting challenge for me. For as long as I can remember, I have refrained from using stereotypically Brazilian artifices in my music since this practice has political and economical tones I do not approve, especially when programmed abroad.  At the same time, I couldn’t be any prouder of my country and my cultural heritage. I really wanted to find a way to acknowledge it without cheapening or stereotyping it. So, rather than running away from it, I decided to dive into all these stereotypes head first, loading myself with paradigms and then trying to untie them from their usual connotations. So, the work is full of elements that could be reductively considered Brazilian, but divorcing these elements from their sense of familiarity is what actually fuels the work. My goal was to create a work that one could say “yes, I can see how this was created by a Brazilian artist, but I’m not quite sure why.”

ACO: Is there anything that you hope the audience will get out of listening to your work? Anything in particular that they should listen for?

MB: This is a tricky question… Part of the success of this work is exactly how differently people may listen to it. If you are looking for similarities and symmetries, you will find plenty of it. But, if you listen closely, all these similarities are false, and nothing really remains the same or is as straightforward as it may seem at first. If you listen “from afar,” it’s a very monolithic piece. But, if you focus on the small details, there are a lot of hidden surprises there. It all depends on how invested one is to hear them.


 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Orchestra Underground: Border Vanguards Composer Spotlight – Derek Bermel

ACO Artistic Director Derek Bermel

Grammy-nominated composer and clarinetist Derek Bermel has been widely acclaimed for his creativity, theatricality, and virtuosity. Derek's works draw from a rich variety of musical genres, including classical, jazz, pop, rock, blues, folk, and gospel. Hands-on experience with music of cultures around the world has become part of the fabric and force of his compositional language. Derek currently serves as the Artistic Director of the American Composers Orchestra and was ACO’s Artistic Adviser from 2009-2013. Here he tells us about his piece Mar de Setembro which ACO will perform with Brazilian singer Luciana Souza during Orchestra Underground: Border Vanguards on April 4, 2014 at Carnegie Hall.

American Composers Orchestra: What inspired your work, Mar de Setembro?

Derek Bermel: Andreia Pinto Correia shared with me the work of the great Portuguese poet Eugénio de Andrade (José Fontinhas). I was immediately drawn to the direct lyricism of his language, his bold depictions of the natural world's sensuality. At the time, I was privileged to be serving as Composer-in-Residence with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, and their music director Jeffrey Kahane reacted with great enthusiasm to my idea of setting this poetry. I traveled to Porto in 2010 and met with Andrade's translator of 25 years, Alexis Levitin, who introduced me to Andrade's heir Gervásio Oliveira Moura, and we all spent a wonderful afternoon talking together.

ACO: How would you describe your composition process for the work?

DB: Each song arrived differently. The first one I wrote was "Mar de Setembro," its lyrical rhythm suggesting the continual undulation of the sea; I notated it in short score and sang it while playing it at the piano. The short "Canção" cycles restlessly through two whole harmonic iterations of the circle of fifths, and the xylophone became my nightingale, a far-off descant over the final lines. I orchestrated "Ocultas Águas" directly into full score, away from the piano; it could not have realized in an abbreviated form. "Frutos" took form as a sort of fado/tango, a cabaret song with bold colors like the tiles of Lisbon. And the introductory prologue on the mysterious poem "Que voz lunar" I wrote last, adding aquaphone as a ghostly accompaniment.

ACO: Did you encounter any unusual challenges in writing this work? If so what were they and how did you resolve them?

DB: I had spent a good amount of time in Brazil, and had even written some chôrinhos. But it was my first time setting text in Portuguese. Throughout this daunting process, my lighthouse on the stormy shore was the magically expressive voice of Luciana Souza. The collaboration with her was nothing short of joyful; her generosity, sensitivity, and attention to detail were paramount, and she inspired me to seek my best compositional self.

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

DB: Of course I am thrilled that Luciana is singing, and George Manahan is a conductor who is so closely attuned to the nuances of the voice and orchestra together, so I am particularly looking forward to this wonderful combination. I have a long history working with the gifted musicians in ACO, so it feels like a family reunion to me.

ACO: Is there anything that you hope the audience will get out of listening to your work? Anything in particular that they should listen for?


DB: I hope that the work can serve Andrade's poetry and I hope that I've helped bring a taste of Portuguese "saudades" (longing) to American shores.


Friday, March 7, 2014

Detroit Symphony EarShot Classical Roots Readings Composer Spotlight – Composer Matthew Evan Taylor

 
Composer Matthew Evan Taylor


Find out in this Q&A with Miami-based composer Matthew Evan Taylor where he got the inspiration for his composition Three Glorious Days and how working with ACO has influenced him. Three Glorious Days will be read at the upcoming New Music Readings with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra on March 9. 

American Composers Orchestra: What was the inspiration for your composition? How have you taken this inspiration and incorporated it into your work that will be read at the Detroit Symphony EarShot Classical Roots Readings?

Matthew Evan Taylor: "Three Glorious Days" was the nickname for the July Revolution of 1830 in France. That same year, Hector Berlioz finished Symphonie Fantastique. In Fantastique, Berlioz depicts that most French of traditions during revolutions–a character is beheaded by guillotine. That musical gesture is the basis for the structure of my Three Glorious Days.

ACO: Since you have been chosen to participate in these Readings, have you furthered developed your composition? How have you been preparing yourself and your work for the Readings?

MET: ACO sent our scores and parts to engraver Bill Holab. He made suggestions on how to make more professional material for the conductor and orchestra, which was very helpful. I also changed the instrumentation slightly. Three Glorious Days originally called for two harps, but for this reading I decided I'd like for one of the harp parts to be celeste instead. I'm looking forward to how that sounds live.

I am thinking of some questions concerning my career going forward, such as how to deal with all of the responsibilities that a composer has–searching for grants, maintaining your web presence, deadlines with ensembles.

ACO: During the readings your work will be workshopped with the help and guidance of Detroit Symphony music director Leonard Slatkin, mentor composers, and DSO musicians. What do you hope to get out of this experience? 


MET: The greatest gift I receive from mentors is advice. I'm looking forward to hearing objective assessments of my work. From the musicians, I always love to hear how to improve my notation to be able to communicate more clearly. From Mr. Slatkin, I'm anxious to hear what he has to say about composing for orchestra in the current climate, and how to build relationships with other ensembles.

ACO: Your composition will be read live to the public during the Readings. Is there anything about the piece that you would like the audience to know about before hearing it? 


MET: This was a fun piece to write and research. I learned some pretty surprising things about French history and the politics at the time. I should also mention that when I wrote this, September 2012, the presidential campaigns were heading into their final stretch. I found the rhetoric challenging the legitimacy of President Obama and the sustainability of the wealth disparity were strangely similar to the July Revolution. In both cases, there were promises of civility once there was a resolution (or election). But, in both cases, the same divisive language and posturing continued. Three Glorious Days reflects this desire for change and catharsis, but things still stay the same.

ACO: You will also taking part in the professional development workshops during the Readings. Is there anything specific that you hope you will learn from attending these workshops?

MET: I am really excited about the opportunity. I am interested in learning things that will help me sustain an active career, expand the scope of projects to pursue, and other opportunities available to musicians.



Monday, March 3, 2014

Detroit Symphony EarShot Classical Roots Readings Composer Spotlight – Composer Jonathan Bailey Holland

Composer Jonathan Bailey Holland
For composer Jonathan Bailey Holland, participating in the upcoming Detroit Symphony EarShot Classical Roots Readings will be a continuation of his professional relationship with the DSO, which stretches back to the tenure of former music director Neeme Jarvi in the early 1990s. Find out in this Q&A with Jonathan how the landmarks of the city of Chicago inspired his composition Shards of Serenity, which will be read at the upcoming Readings on March 9.

American Composers Orchestra: What was the inspiration for your composition? How have you taken this inspiration and incorporated it into your work that will be read at the Detroit Symphony EarShot Classical Roots Readings? 

Jonathan Bailey Holland: Commissioned by the Chicago Sinfonietta in partnership with the Chicago Architectural Foundation, Shards of Serenity is one of four movements that make up the work ChiScapes, a collaborative composition celebrating the architectural landmarks of the city of Chicago. In addition to my composition, ChiScapes includes movements composed by Armando Bayolo, Christopher Rogerson and Vivian Fung – each movement corresponding to a different building. The Chicago Sinfonietta premiered the work on June 8, 2013, with Mei-Ann Chen conducting. The landmark that I chose was Mies van der Rohe’s Crown Hall, on the campus of IIT.   Many who have actually been inside of the structure comment on the serenity experienced both inside and out. I can imagine feeling serene in such a large, open structure in which natural light streams through the ceiling to floor windows that envelope the entire building. Undoubtedly light streams in through all of the windows at various times of day in many different ways. With no internal walls to direct the journey through the building, a visitor would likely be forced to confront their physical location and presence at whatever location they found themselves within the building. Perhaps initially one’s attention would be drawn upwards since the glass at eye level is translucent, while the glass above eye level is transparent. And, again at least initially, I would imagine there is a moment of disorientation – an uncertainty about where to focus. Eventually a visitor would find their bearings, creating their own personal experience in the space. Shards of Serenity is a sonic representation of this type of experience, with the sounds being inspired by the physicality of the open space.

ACO: Since you have been chosen to participate in these Readings, have you furthered developed your composition? How have you been preparing yourself and your work for the Readings?

JBH: I have ideas for expanding the work, but I have not yet had the time to do so. I hope to return to it someday in the near future. As for preparing for the reading, I am looking forward to returning to work with the Detroit Symphony. I had several pieces performed by them during Neeme Jarvi's tenure as music director there. In 1993, I participated in the Unisys African American Composers Competition and National Forum. My work Martha's Waltz was one of the finalist compositions, and while I didn't win, Maestro Järvi took a liking to my music. Two years later I came back as a co-composer in residence with the Unisys program (along with Anthony Davis), composing a concert opening work, visiting several Detroit area schools, and serving on a panel discussion with other composers and artists, including Nikki Giovanni. In 2003, when the newly updated and expanded Max M Fisher center opened, my work Motor City Dance Mix was the very first work performed at the gala opening. The Detroit Symphony has been a major part of my compositional career and development, and I am excited to return after many years.  

ACO: During the readings your work will be workshopped with the help and guidance of Detroit Symphony music director Leonard Slatkin, mentor composers, and DSO musicians. What do you hope to get out of this experience? 

JBH: The opportunity for feedback from Maestro Slatkin and the mentor composers is a great opportunity. As a composer, it is hard to get perspective on your own music, and the opportunity to have other knowledgeable and experienced ears hear and assess my work is necessary.  

ACO: Your composition will be read live to the public during the Readings. Is there anything about the piece that you would like the audience to know about before hearing it? 

JBH: I would hope that the audience knows the story behind the creation of the work and the connection to Mies van der Rohe, but even if they don't, I believe the music will hold it's own.  

ACO: You will also taking part in the professional development workshops during the Readings. Is there anything specific that you hope you will learn from attending these workshops?  

JBH: I love writing for the orchestra, and while I have been fortunate enough to have works performed by various orchestras, I have many artistic ideas that I would like to bring to fruition and share with orchestras and audiences, as well as sharing my pre-existing work. As an educator and composer and generally busy person, the opportunities for focus solely on my own professional development are less frequent than I would like. Hopefully these workshops will generate ideas for how do more of all of this.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Detroit Symphony EarShot Classical Roots Readings Composer Spotlight – Composer Kevin Scott


Composer Kevin Scott

Composer Kevin Scott’s A Point Served...(In Remembrance Arthur Ashe) was written in the commemoration of the sporting legend and civil rights champion Arthur Ashe. The composition will be read at the Detroit Symphony EarShot Classical Roots Readings on March 9 at Orchestra Hall in Detroit, MI. Find out from this interview with Kevin, how A Point Served… was in part a response to Debussy’s Jeux and what he hopes he will get out the experience of taking part in the Readings.

American Composers Orchestra: What was the inspiration for your composition? How have you taken this inspiration and incorporated it into your work that will be read at the Detroit Symphony EarShot Classical Roots Readings?  
Kevin Scott: When I heard about Arthur Ashe's passing, I felt that a chapter in both sports and African-American history had lost a great person who was a figurehead in his profession, and a true role model for generations to come, and a few days after his death I decided to compose a work in his memory. 

Ashe's inspiration as a champion of civil rights, as well as one of the best in the field of tennis, compelled me to combine the two aspects of his life. I wanted to musically capture the tennis game in an abstract way, and in doing this I decided to feature mallet percussion, harp and piano imitating the repartee between players, hitting the ball across the net, complete with footsteps, stumbles and a few inaudible breaths and mutterings, while at the same time there is a theme that begins in the strings that spells his name, employing a variation of soggetto cavato (carved-out subject), which I use in several of my compositions to either depict a person or a subject. This theme is subject to transfiguration and minute variation through the use of post-serial techniques, though not used in a strict way.

ACO: Since you have been chosen to participate in these Readings, have you furthered developed your composition? How have you been preparing yourself and your work for the Readings? 
KS: This will be its first performance with a live orchestra, so I consider it a finished composition, but that does not mean that it may be subject to revision after I hear it. I may like what I hear, or I may find myself re-orchestrating passages in the composition.

Preparing myself is a challenge. The best way to prepare one's self for something like this is not to worry about it until you get there, and then take the situation as it comes. You don't want to build false hopes or anxieties for yourself.

ACO: During the readings your work will be workshopped with the help and guidance of Detroit Symphony music director Leonard Slatkin, mentor composers, and DSO musicians. What do you hope to get out of this experience? 
KS: One hopes that they will look at the composition at face value and offer their suggestions with no prejudice. Composers always learn from each other, and also to hear the feedback from Leonard Slatkin will be an added plus, as he will have seen my music, or that of my colleagues, for the first time and will have an open ear and eye about what he's encountering.

ACO: Your composition will be read live to the public during the Readings. Is there anything about the piece that you would like the audience to know about before hearing it? 
KS: This is one of three works that make up my unofficial African-American trilogy for orchestra, the other two works musically portraying Betty Shabazz (Malcolm X's widow) and Thurgood Marshall, though all three works should be played separately. In many ways, A point served... is my response to Debussy's Jeux, which also depicts a tennis game, albeit with a more intimate and personal scenario than mine, but at the same time my composition is also the most abstract of my orchestral works, a fantasia uninhibited by classical form or structure of any sort.

ACO: You will also taking part in the professional development workshops during the Readings. Is there anything specific that you hope you will learn from attending these workshops?
KS: Again, one can learn from each other, and rather than dwell on what to expect, I'm just going in with an open eye and ear and learn what is and isn't, what should be done and what shouldn't be done, and as we continue to find new techniques, styles and presentations, learn to adapt them into one's own perspective of music and take it from there.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Orchestra Underground: Lines On A Point Composer Spotlight – Lisa Renée Coons



Composer Lisa Renée Coons
Composer Lisa Renée Coons’ composition Vera’s Ghosts will have its world premiere at American Composers Orchestra’s Orchestra Underground: Lines On A Point concert on February 20 at Zankel Hall, Carnegie Hall. Lisa has kindly shared with us the personal story that has inspired her work and how she hopes the audience will respond to Vera’s Ghosts.

American Composers Orchestra: What inspired your composition Vera's Ghosts
Lisa Renée Coons: My once vibrant and passionate grandmother, Vera, has slowly been losing the battle with dementia—there is now almost nothing of her previous ‘self’ left. This piece tries to capture the pain and fear of that trajectory, both hers and my mother’s as she cared for her. Or perhaps, more honestly, it is even more inspired by my own fear of that disease. The conductor acts as protagonist, surrounded by the musicians who are placed around him in a sparse U-formation. He often loses control of the gestures and becomes submerged in noise as ideas are passed quickly around the space between individual players, like an infection spreading. Moments of beauty deteriorate into angry episodes of confusion and frustration, but the end is a sort of 'hymn' - it is a quiet acceptance of someone who no longer communicates, but rather lives alone with her ghosts.

ACO: How would you describe your composition process for Vera's Ghosts? Did you face any challenges that you had to resolve during the composition?
LRC: Notation for the spatialized gestures - especially those based on the reactions of the musicians rather than the motion of the conductor - represented a new challenge for me. I have never written anything so physical for a large ensemble like string orchestra and I am excited to hear it realized.

ACO: What are you most looking forward to in having your work performed by American Composers Orchestra in its World Premiere at Carnegie Hall? 
LRC: I am grateful to have the opportunity to collaborate with these amazing musicians.  This piece is new and challenging in many ways, and I am eager to have it realized by the musicians of ACO.  But I am also quite touched to be included with the other composers on the concert. I look forward to this concert as both a composer and an audience member.

ACO: Is there anything that you hope the audience will get out of listening to your work? Is there anything they should listen for?  
LRC: I would like for the audience to focus on the movement of textures and gestures - to let themselves be immersed in sound rather than listening for motivic development or themes.  My hope would be for them to have visceral responses to the sound, and that this piece will provide an engaging experience as much as it acts as music.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Orchestra Underground: Lines On A Point Composer Spotlight – Amy Beth Kirsten


Composer Amy Beth Kirsten
Beginning with a poem, composer Amy Beth Kirsten has transformed it into her composition, strange pilgrims, which will have its world premiere at American Composers Orchestra’s Orchestra Underground: Lines On A Point concert on February 20 at Zankel Hall, Carnegie Hall. Along with music, strange pilgrims, will also feature a video by Mark DeChiazza. In this interview, find out how this collaboration came about and the journey that Amy Beth has taken in composing her work strange pilgrims.

American Composers Orchestra: What inspired your composition strange pilgrims? How would you describe your composition process? 
Amy Beth Kirsten: Actually, reflecting on the idea of composing inspired the poem and the music for the piece. I wrote the poem when I was just finishing up an evening length theater piece for the chamber group, eighth blackbird, that was incredibly challenging to compose; it was a process that was more collaborative than anything I'd done before and it required making many sketches and rewrites (over the course of a few years) as well as composing about forty minutes of music that, in the end, I decided not to use in the final piece. I pushed myself harder and further than ever before and, in the end, made something I'm super satisfied with. During this three-year long journey I often felt a very strong spiritual pull and meditated quite a lot throughout. The poem for strange pilgrims is a reflection on this process. I sent the poem to Mark DeChiazza (whose stage direction was an essential part of making the eighth blackbird piece) and we started talking about the possibility of working together (again!) - the idea for the music/video project blossomed from there. I decided to dedicate strange pilgrims to my beloved, Christopher Theofanidis, who is also a composer, because we often talk together about making new art and what it means to us personally and spiritually. 

Credit: Mark DeChiazza

ACO: Did incorporating the video have any impact on your piece? 
ABK: One of most challenging things was that the text and the music for the piece came first (before I knew what the images looked like). Mark and I intuit each other’s imaginations very easily so that helped a lot; he described the images that he was thinking of and how the video might interact with the music. Because I've never incorporated video before, it was a leap of faith that I'd be able to compose music that left enough room for the images to have a definitive presence in the piece. We aimed to structure the music and the video to have a kind of symbiotic relationship. I'll be seeing the final piece a few hours before the audience does, and that's pretty thrilling to me! 

ACO: As this upcoming performance will be the world premiere of strange pilgrims is there anything you are most looking forward to in hearing it performed lived by American Composers Orchestra and The Crossing chamber choir? 
ABK: I'm really curious to hear what several sections of the music sound like; these are sections that use an interpretive kind of music notation and so far I've only been able to approximate the sound for myself. I'm also looking forward to the rest of Mark Andrew's (director of photography) incredibly moving images and to see what Mark DeChiazza created with them. It's especially rewarding to be an alumna of the ACO Readings and come back and work with this fine orchestra on something new, as well as to work with The Crossing for the first time. I feel incredibly honored to be included on a concert that features David Lang, Steve Reich, and Ted Hearne; these are composers whose music I'm crazy about and who have long influenced my musical thinking. I'll also be cheering for Lisa Coons who has a world premiere that evening as well. So all in all, it'll be a pretty exciting night!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Orchestra Underground: Lines On A Point Composer Spotlight – David Lang

Composer David Lang  Photo: Peter Serling
statement to the court, composed by David Lang, co-founder of Bang on a Can and Carnegie Hall’s Debs Composers’ Chair for 2013-2014, will be performed by The Crossing chamber choir and American Composers Orchestra at ACO’s Orchestra Underground: Lines On A Point concert on Thursday, February 20 at Zankel Hall, Carnegie Hall. In this interview, David Lang sheds light on the challenges he faced in composing statement to the court, the dedication of his work to Frances Richards, ASCAP, and what he is most looking forward to at the upcoming performance! 


ACO: What was your composition process for your piece statement to the court

David Lang: The text is from a famous political speech, delivered by the American socialist Eugene Debs, upon his conviction for sedition, for advocating that the United States stay out of the first World War.  I wanted to capture the rhythm of the speech, the power of it, but also something of the direct 4/4 agit-protest march rhythm appropriate to its world. I listened to a bunch of labor and protest songs before I wrote it, and I still can almost hear them in the background.

ACO: Did you encounter any unusual challenges in writing this work? If so what were they and how did you resolve them? 

DL: The greatest challenge I had to deal with was how to use the text to model the relationships between the chorus and the orchestra.  Choirs and orchestras are hierarchical - there are rules and relationships about how the music is normally made, and I wondered if I could change some of them, so that the relationships would be more in the spirit of the text.  So I came up with what I thought would be a more democratic way to define all the society of musicians - everyone sings almost everything together, the strings double almost everything the singers sing, so they feel like equals, and there are many short vocal solos that are supposed to be divided equally among the voices, so that everyone can be valued as a community member and as an individual as well. 

ACO: Your composition is dedicated to Frances Richard, ASCAP, who is also being honored at this Orchestra Underground performance. Can you tell us more about this dedication and the impact that Frances has had in her work with ASCAP? 

DL: I love Fran, and I have loved Fran for as long as I have known her.  She is one of the most passionate, opinionated, fire-breathingly political people that I know.  It seemed right to dedicate this piece to her.

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

DL: I am very excited about this concert.  My piece uses music to explore a moment in American political history.  What more fitting group should play it than the American Composers Orchestra?


Saturday, February 1, 2014

Berkeley Symphony EarShot Under Construction New Music Readings Composer Spotlight – Composer Nicholas Omiccioli

Composer Nicholas Omiccioli 
Tapping into his roots in performing in heavy metal bands, composer Nicholas Omiccioli gives us a glimpse into his composition process for his latest work, burning, and also what he is most looking forward to in participating in this weekend’s Berkeley Symphony EarShot Under Construction New Music Readings! 
American Composers Orchestra: What was the inspiration for your composition? How would you describe your composition process? 
Nicholas Omiccioli: My original goal was to write a piece inspired by my early musical roots playing guitar in heavy metal bands. As the piece developed, the literal translation of what I was going for turned more abstract. While I chose to forgo adding a drum kit and metal-style riffs, the tempo of the piece is still extremely fast and has an aggressive edge. Alternatively, moments of repose and atmospheric-like textures made their way into the work, offering more of a relaxed feel.
In a nutshell, my compositional process begins with improvisation, score study, and a considerable amount of time thinking before I write any music. Most of the time, I know what I want so my improvisations are guided to fine-tuning the raw material. After arriving at a handful of motives, melodies, chords, pitch content, and a formal outline, I jot ideas down and work out more substantial sections. While I try to always start at the beginning of a piece, it is not always the case. I plan extensively about where I want to go with the material and set up a number of processes to help accomplish those goals. By this time, I have probably discovered something new about the piece, or I change a parameter—such as a motive, theme, or pitch content—and typically start the entire process over again. This step takes the longest to figure out because I find myself at a fork in the road with just about everything I write. What path do I want to take? Do I have enough time and/or technique to take this path or should I go with what I know works? Once I have decided on a direction, the music essentially writes itself. After I notate the piece, I print it and re-notate it all again. This is when I fine-tune and hopefully correct all of my mistakes.
For burning, rather than deciding on which path to take, I took both of them.
ACO: Since the selection of your work for the Berkeley Symphony EarShot Under Construction New Music Readings, how have you further developed your piece in preparation for the readings? 
NO: I chose to write a new piece for the Berkeley Symphony. All the material is fresh and has not been recycled from other works. The two-and-a-half months I had to arrive at a draft was spent frantically writing as much material as I could. Because the tempo of my piece is insanely fast, there are a ridiculous number of notes. This reading, therefore, will be the deciding factor in how the work develops over the next few months in preparing for the May run-through.  
ACO: What do you hope to get out of this experience of having your piece read by the Berkeley Symphony and in working with the mentor-composers? 
NO: For me, having the chance to hear a work in progress live is an incredible advantage when writing a new piece. I hope that this opportunity for me to experiment outside of my comfort zone will help me grow as a composer and affect future decisions I make. These can include taking more—or even less—risks and having a better grasp on what works and what does not. The feedback from the mentor-composers, as well as comments from the other composition participants, musicians, and conductor will have a significant impact on how I make final preparations
ACO: What are you most looking forward to in participating in these New Music Readings? 
NO: I'm looking forward to the entire overall experience! I'm excited to get to know Joana Carneiro and the musicians of the Berkeley Symphony. It is incredible that they've offered their time to help out so many young composers in developing pieces over the years, and I'm humbled to be a part of it. I'm also looking forward to meeting the other composers and hearing their music, as well as working with mentor-composers Robert Beaser and Edmund Campion. It also goes without saying that I can't wait to hear these two excerpts from my piece, which have all but taken over my life since October!
ACO: What would you like to say to other composers who may be interested in applying to future New Music Readings? 
NO: As I tell all of my students, apply, apply, apply! This program promises to be a great experience for developing a new orchestral work, especially if you have not had much experience writing for orchestra or the opportunity. 

Friday, January 31, 2014

Berkeley Symphony EarShot Under Construction Readings Composer Spotlight – Composer Ruben Naeff


Composer Ruben Naeff   Photo: Elsbeth Tijssen
In this interview with composer Ruben Naeff, find out how a great literary work inspired his latest composition, Danse Macabre, which will be read at the Berkeley Symphony EarShot Under Construction New Music Readings this weekend.

American Composers Orchestra: What was the inspiration for your composition? How would you describe your composition process? 
Ruben Naeff: Moby Dick! This year I worked with my friends from West 4th New Music on an oratorio about Moby Dick that will be performed by Contemporaneous during the MATA Interval Series on February 21st in New York. I decided to select a few passages from my movements and develop the material into a larger, unified work for orchestra. The composition process is always a mysterious activity: I am changing musical fragments that I already have into as many variations as I can come up with and then I select the ones that get me tick. I am basically chasing the most beautiful or exciting musical moments. It remains very abstract what beautiful or exciting actually means. It happens very often that my initial starting point -- Moby Dick in this case -- is not present anymore at a later stage. That doesn't matter: I care about the notes, and the rest is secondary. In this case I ended up with something that reminded me most to a dance with death, or a Danse Macabre, as it is called.

ACO: Since the selection of your work for the Berkeley Symphony EarShot Under Construction New Music Readings, how have you further developed your piece in preparation for the readings? 
RN: Ask a composer for an existing piece and he will give you a new one -- that is what composers do, right, compose new music. So my piece wasn't selected as it did not exist at that time yet. But as I wrote above, it was based on another piece that I recently wrote.

ACO:  What do you hope to get out of this experience of having your piece read by the Berkeley Symphony and in working with the mentor-composers? 
RN: As much advice as possible, on every possible concept of composing. Obviously technical things on orchestration, or practical things on score preparation, but also artistic comments on the musical material, its development, its form -- everything.

ACO: What are you most looking forward to in participating in these New Music Readings? 
RN: Getting to know great musicians, both performers and composers, both my peers and my mentors, and talking about music as long as we can. That, and of course hearing my new piece performed by this stellar orchestra, and learning about the million things I could have done better. And the best part is: those are the million things that I actually will do better, since there is time to improve my piece for the second reading. That opportunity is in one word amazing, and in two words extremely rare.

ACO: What would you like to say to other composers who may be interested in applying to future New Music Readings? 
RN: Don't hesitate, apply!