Thursday, April 2, 2015

ACO: Blues Symphony & Beyond Composer Spotlight – Uri Caine

Pianist and composer Uri Caine spans classical and jazz traditions with an impressive resume of recordings, performances, compositions, and a Grammy nomination in 2009 for Best Classical Crossover Album. Uri's Double Trouble for piano and orchestra was commissioned by ACO and performed in February 2008 at Carnegie Hall. ACO, with Uri as piano soloist, will give the premiere of a revised and expanded version of the piece, April 9 at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Uri was kind enough to talk with SoundAdvice about the upcoming performance.

Pianist and composer Uri Caine. Photo credit: Simon Meele

American Composers Orchestra: You premiered Double Trouble in February 2008 with ACO at Zankel Hall. Now you are premiering a revised and expanded version. Can you talk about how the piece has changed since its original premiere 7 years ago?

Uri Caine: When I premiered the piece in 2008 it was written for piano and a chamber orchestra (single winds and horns and 1 percussionist). For the 2015 version, I got the opportunity to compose for a full orchestra with triple winds and a larger brass and percussion section. This allowed me to enrich certain harmonic areas, to strengthen the balance of certain sections and to simplify certain parts where I could divide the music between a greater variety of instruments. But inevitably as I started tinkering with the orchestration, I also started to rewrite parts of the music, to simplify certain sections and to clarify certain parts. Even though the structure of the piece basically remains the same as the 2008 version, I made  many small changes as I worked on the re-orchestration – in that sense Double Trouble in 2015 is a much different piece than the original 2008 version.

ACO: You say, "Double Trouble sets up a dialogue between composed music (mostly for the orchestra) and improvisation (mostly for the piano soloist)." You are performing as piano soloist on April 9 at Jazz at Lincoln Center, but if another pianist is to play the piece, what direction, if any, do you give for these improvised sections?

UC: I would ask the improviser to listen to what the orchestra is playing and then react and, at the same time, use the short cadenza solo sections as a sort of counterpoint and development of what the orchestra has or will play. There are also certain sections where the piano part is completely notated and other sections where a certain harmony is specified or a rhythm is suggested and the soloist can interpret this as they feel, but in the end I might not want to say too much. I would give the pianist the freedom to do their own thing!

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

In terms of a form, there are 7 short sections which usually begin or end with a solo piano cadenza. This cadenza either sets up the next entrance of the orchestra or “comments” on what the orchestra has just played. These sections are about 1 to 2 minutes each and are marked Misterioso, Grazioso, Energetic, Animated, Furioso, Espressivo, and Wild. The eighth and last section features an expanding and contracting rhythmic scheme – 5/8, 6/8, 7/8, 4/4, 7/8, 6/8, 5/8 – that repeats throughout the movement and establishes a certain groove for the soloist to play with. There is a dialogue between the piano and the orchestra: sometimes the soloist echoes what the orchestra is playing, sometimes it moves against it in rhythmic or melodic counterpoint, and sometimes it plays along as a member of the orchestra. The orchestra part is sometimes hyperactive, sometimes rhythmic, and sometimes lyric but the idea of the piece is to give the soloist the challenge of improvising against an orchestra that is throwing ideas right and left at the soloist in quick succession. The improvising soloist can decide in the moment how to react.

ACO: What are you looking forward to about your performance of Double Trouble with ACO at Jazz at Lincoln Center?
UC: I look forward to playing with George Manahan and the ACO. It is always fun after composing to go out and finally play what has been in your imagination. I am also looking forward to hearing the music of Courtney Bryan and Wynton Marsalis!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Composer Spotlight - Angélica Negrón, 2014-15 Van Lier Fellow

Composer and multi-instrumentalist Angélica Negrón is a Brooklyn-based composer whose music has been described as “wistfully idiosyncratic and contemplative” (WQXR/Q2) and “mesmerizing and affecting” (Feast of Music). The New York Times noted her “capacity to surprise” and her “quirky approach to scoring. Angélica was selected to be the 2014-15 Van Lier Emerging Composer Fellow. As part of the fellowship, she has been working closely with ACO, participating in planning educational activities and performances, and serving as liaison with student composers.

Composer and multi-instrumentalist Angélica Negrón

Angélica has been asked to write a piece for ACO this fall. She was kind enough to talk with SoundAdvice about the piece and her Van Lier Fellowship experience.

American Composers Orchestra: What was your reaction to finding out you had been selected as the 2014-15 Van Lier Emerging Composer Fellow?
Angélica Negrón: I was very surprised and honored.  I've been following for a while the extraordinary work that ACO does for living composers and I feel very lucky that I get to be a part of this and experience working closely with this organization as well as some of the talented artists featured this season.

ACO: Can you tell us a little bit about what you are doing as a part of your Van Lier Fellowship?
AN: I've been helping sort out the unsolicited submissions. Seeing the variety of composers that submit their work for consideration has been really interesting. I've also been learning more about ACO's education division and sometimes interacting with students that come to the dress rehearsals, as well as learning more about grant writing and finding resources for funding projects. As part of my fellowship I also get to program a concert of my music, which I'm very much looking forward to, and learn about other facets of concert production and marketing.  

ACO: What has surprised you about working so closely with ACO?
AN: I would have to say the wide diversity in the artists and composers they work with as well as the short amount of time they have to put together sometimes very challenging pieces and programs.  It's amazing to see how somehow it all comes together, like magic at the end.

The most fascinating thing so far has been attending the rehearsals and observing the process of putting together pieces as well as the interaction between performers, conductor and composers. It's really interesting to see how each composer has their own unique way of communicating both verbally and musically what they're looking for in their pieces and to see how the conductor and the performers interpret this and help bring the pieces to life.  For example, seeing one of my favorite composers Meredith Monk work with the orchestra was particularly enthralling as she's a composer that often works with her performers for extended periods of time. A lot of her pieces are developed through this close collaboration with the performers.  It's interesting seeing how composers negotiate the limits of time that working with an orchestra present and also how they each approach the huge endeavor of writing for orchestra – translating their voice to such a powerful medium while retaining the immediacy of their personal expression. Needless to say, it's also a pretty amazing treat to be in close proximity to the orchestra in rehearsals and to hear everything up close and personal.

ACO: You have been asked to write a piece ACO this Fall. Anything you can tell us about the piece? 
AN: I'm very excited about writing a piece for the orchestra for ACO this Fall. I'm working on a new piece which uses the performance space as a compositional element featuring an ensemble of mechanical instruments, designed by instrument builder Nick Yulman, which will be placed in different locations in the space interacting with the orchestra to create an immersive sonic landscape that surrounds the audience.  I've been reading a lot of early twentieth century surrealist poetry from Latin American poets and have been specially inspired by the work of Argentine writer Oliverio Girondo for this piece.  I'm interested in exploring the possibilities of integrating robotics into orchestral performance and the potential of new sounds with the interaction of these two mediums. Though I've written three orchestra pieces in the past,  this new piece for the ACO is particularly important for me as it marks my first orchestra piece after a significant stylistic shift in my compositional voice which I've been developing over the past 7 years, mostly through chamber or solo works incorporating electronics combined with acoustic instruments.

I've been really intrigued for the past couple of years on how to make the live electronic performance more dynamic and engaging for audiences and for performers. Since meeting instrument builder Nick Yulman a lot of new exciting possibilities have opened up for me in this realm.  Besides this being the first time I'm exploring my current voice in such a massive medium,  I'm also really thrilled to be writing for such an exceptional orchestra and to have the opportunity to combine it with Nick's wonderful instruments.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Composer Spotlight – Melody Eötvös, Winner of First Toulmin Foundation Commission

Melody Eötvös is an Australian-born composer of both multimedia and traditional works who lives in Bloomington, Indiana. Last Fall, ACO's EarShot and The League of American Orchestras selected her and composer Julia Adolphe as winners of a $15,000 commission supported by the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation. Melody was kind enough to answer some questions about the commission and her experience at EarShot.

Composer Melody Eötvös. Photo credit: Grant Heger

American Composers Orchestra: You participated in the 2014 Underwood New Music Readings with your selected piece Beetles, Dragons & Dreamers. Can you tell us a little bit about your experience in the workshop and anything you took away?

Melody Eötvös: My experience with the American Composers Orchestra in June last year for the Underwood New Music readings was fantastic.  I've always been a little hesitant about going to New York (that was my first visit ever) but this was the perfect reason to finally take the plunge.  Focusing for those three days on ACO, the other composer fellows, and being able to network with other professionals during the career sessions made the experience extremely valuable and a huge game changer in the way that I think about writing for orchestra, as well as how I prepare my parts, edit my score, and reach out to publishers, conductors, and organizations.  Working with ACO, George Manahan, and Michael Geller was one of the most rewarding workshops I have ever participated in. The orchestra was incredibly efficient and precise during rehearsals and were able to accomplish wonders with my piece in such a short amount of time.  

ACO: What was your reaction to hearing you had won a $15,000 commission supported by the Toulmin Foundation from the League of American Orchestras and ACO's EarShot?

ME: This is a huge honor and I remember meeting several representatives of the Toulmin Foundation during the Underwood Readings and thinking how amazing it would be to receive one of the awards. To actually be one of the first recipients of this commission is mind-blowing to say the least.  Once the news had sunk in though I began thinking about the immensity of the task ahead of me.  I was still on a high (and still am!), but I was also beginning to realize what this huge opportunity meant. I've written four orchestral works, and each of them were highly experimental and mainly focused on testing out sounds and timbres that I like.  With this commission though I know that I have to be confident about the solidarity and structure of the piece at all times... no more student writing!  It's taking a lot of preparation, thought, self-analysis, and chewing so far.  

ACO: Obviously it's still early, but can you tell us anything about the piece you are writing for the commission?

ME: Well, I'm always turning to literature and biological sources for inspiration, and this piece is still going to be connected to those places.  Because I'm focusing more on the music though, and less on narrative influences, the result is going to be very interesting, or at least that's what i hope!  The instrumentation is also a lot lighter than what I've worked with before in an 'orchestral' mid-set, so that will play a huge part in the resulting sound as well.

Monday, March 23, 2015

ACO: Blues Symphony & Beyond Composer Spotlight – Courtney Bryan

Courtney Bryan, a native of New Orleans is “a pianist and composer of panoramic interests” (New York Times). Courtney is an alumna of ACO's Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute. Her ACO commission, Sanctum, will have its world premiere April 9, 2015, at Jazz at Lincoln Center in Blues Symphony & Beyond. Courtney was kind enough to share her thoughts about the piece and its premiere with SoundAdvice.

Composer/pianist Courtney Bryan. Photo credit: Elizabeth Leitzell
American Composers Orchestra: You actually went to the same high school (though many years apart) as Wynton Marsalis. Can you tell us what it's like, as a native New Orleans composer, to now share a bill with a New Orleans legend like Wynton?

Courtney Bryan: It is very fulfilling and a reminder of the cyclical nature of life. I first met Wynton Marsalis when I was a 12 years old student at the Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong Jazz Camp in New Orleans. Wynton Marsalis was the special guest for our performance at the New Orleans Jazz Festival that year, and we were all so thrilled to have a legend like him perform with us. I will always remember how he gave me encouraging nods and words when I took my solo.

I went to the same high schools as Wynton Marsalis - the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts and Benjamin Franklin High School. And like many musicians in New Orleans, I sought apprenticeship with musician/educators from the various major New Orleans music families. Some of my teachers included Clyde Kerr, Jr., Dr. Daniel Weilbaecher, Dean Curtis, Roger Dickerson, Kidd Jordan, Kent Jordan, Moses Hogan, Ellis Marsalis, and the entire faculty of the Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong Jazz Camp and NOCCA. This rich experience prepared me for my following opportunities. 

I expanded upon my New Orleans experience at the Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio, beginning with a triple major in music composition, classical piano, and jazz piano. I graduated with a B.M. in composition, having studied with Dr. Wendell Logan, Jeffrey Mumford, Marcus Belgrave, Billy Hart, and Frances Walker. Afterwards, I earned a M.M. at Rutgers University working with Stanley Cowell and Dr. Lewis Porter and began performing in New York. Meanwhile, I have always worked as a church musician. 

It was during my time at Columbia University, that I began actively integrating my New Orleans experience with my more recent ventures. My advisor George Lewis has not only opened many doors for me regarding music composition, but also has encouraged me to unapologetically be my full self in all situations and to always speak my voice. My pastor Rev. Dr. M. William Howard, from Bethany Baptist Church of Newark, has encouraged me to explore my spiritual path directly through my music and has given me a platform to actively combine my spiritual, artistic, and scholarly pursuits. As a result of my experiences at Columbia University, Bethany Baptist Church, performing in New York, and my experience at the Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute in 2012 at UCLA, I came to focus on notating the feeling improvisation, integrating the sacred and secular in my music, and exploring human emotions in sound.

Twenty years after that first meeting with Wynton Marsalis, I am excited to share this concert, Blues Symphony and Beyond. I am continuing the same goals and ambitions I had at 12, with the added experiences I have been blessed with between then and now. I hope this concert is part of a continuing cycle, and that I will be working more with Wynton Marsalis, as well as Uri Caine, in the near future.

ACO: You write that Sanctum is inspired by a 1973 recorded sermon by Pastor Shirley Caesar, The Praying Slave Lady. What about this sermon inspired your composition?

CB: This recorded sermon by Pastor Shirley Caesar is so powerful! I found it while browsing her music recordings on YouTube a few years ago. Sonically, what amazes me is the steady simmering intensity. It begins with a descending figure from the piano, and commences to a rumble from the bass and drums that surges like waves, with accompanying melodic fragments from the guitar, organ, and piano. Shirley Caesar and another vocalist sing Rev. Dr. Charles Albert Tindley’s 1905 hymn Stand By Me, while Caesar delivers her sermon, The Praying Slave Lady. The sermon is about an enslaved African-American woman who insists on praying despite the slave master’s threats. When he attempts to whip her, his arm is intercepted by a host of spirits. 

Hearing this sermon reminds me of the story of Igbo (Ibo/Ebo) Landing, which I first learned about from Julie Dash’s film Daughters of the Dust, where in 1803 a group of Africans captured for slavery, upon arrival on the Georgia coast, walked back into the water in a mass suicide act of rebellion. Myths of that historical event include the Africans walking or flying back to Africa, and have inspired several works of art. As one who is interested in the idea of rebellion and healing through sound, I am drawn to stories like these and the challenge of conveying those elements in my music.  

While studying Caesar’s sermon, I was emotionally taking in the recent events in police brutality, particularly the case of Marlene Pinnock, who was filmed by a bystander being brutally beaten by a police officer on a highway interstate in Los Angeles. During the media coverage of Eric Garner, Mike Brown, and other victims of police brutality, I would listen to this sermon, and particularly the singing of Stand By Me, and envision a magical realism flight from this harsh reality. I began collecting and making sound collages of recorded voices of Marlene Pinnock and protestors in Ferguson, and they became part of the fabric of Sanctum along with my interpretation of the improvisation in Holiness-style preaching, particularly in the recorded sermons of Caesar and Rev. Dr. C. L. Franklin.

I thank Tania León and Alvin Singleton for advising me from conception to completion of this project! I also thank Derek Bermel, Dr. Alexandra Vazquez, and Bill Lee for their advice. Meanwhile, as a postdoctorate fellow at the Center for African-American Studies at Princeton University, I have had an opportunity to have stimulating conversations about exploring politics through the arts, and attend lectures on related topics. These conversations and my concurrent project, Prophetika: an Oratorio, have been an integral part of the creation of Sanctum.

ACO: Is there anything you hope to prove to the audience, or yourself, with ACO's premiere of Sanctum on April 9?

CB: “Every man and woman is born into the world to do something unique and something distinctive and if he or she does not do it, it will never be done.” - Dr. Benjamin E Mays

At this point in my life, my main goal is to be my complete self in all situations and give my most sincere efforts. I thank my parents and family for always encouraging me to be true to myself and to take risks. I try to focus less on proving anything and more on honoring my ancestors and praising God. 

ACO: What are you most looking forward to about the premiere of Sanctum by ACO at Jazz at Lincoln Center?

CB: I look forward to sharing this work with my friends and family, whose support is so important for all the work I do. I am excited to hear the premieres by Wynton Marsalis and Uri Caine, and know that this experience will fire up some inspiration for my future projects. I personally thank Michael Geller, Derek Bermel, Gregory Evans, and Alisa Herrington, as well as George Manahan and everyone from the American Composers Orchestra and Jazz at Lincoln Center for making this event possible. I am sincerely grateful.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute Summer Intensive 2015 now open to applications

American Composers Orchestra (ACO) and The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music, in cooperation with the Center for Jazz Studies at Columbia University, presents the third Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute (JCOI) in 2015-16. The program commences August 8-13, 2015 with a Summer Intensive at The Herb Alpert School at UCLA. A second phase of the program includes Orchestral Readings of new music by select participants in spring-fall of 2016.
APPLICATION DEADLINE: Thursday, April 30, 2015

Read this essay with interviews by Howard Mandel – Jazz and the Future of the Symphony Orchestra – which he generously contributed to ACO's site. Howard is a New York-based writer, editor, author, and producer for NPR. For more than 30 years, he's covered jazz, blues and new and unusual musics for newspapers, magazines and websites. Howard teaches at New York University and elsewhere and consults for various arts organizations. He's president of the Jazz Journalists Association and blogs at

Watch this introductory video to the program:

Listen to past JCOI readings:

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.