Friday, April 20, 2018

EarShot Jacksonville Symphony Readings: Composer Spotlight - Meng Wang

Meng Wang (b. 1989) is a Chinese composer currently based in New York City. Meng’s music has been performed throughout North America, China, and Europe, by esteemed ensembles such as The Aspen Contemporary Ensemble, Thin Edge New Music Collective, LONGLEASH trio, MSM Composer’s Orchestra (George Manahan, conductor) and China Youth Symphony Orchestra. Her piece Beloved by Artemis won the 2012 Chinese National Chamber Music Composition Competition and was selected for the composition showcase by the Xi’an Conservatory of Music in China. Meng has been a fellow at Aspen Music Festival and School and was named The Deolus W. Husband Scholarship for Composition in 2015-2017. Upcoming projects include a chamber opera, Simulacrum, presented by Path New Music Theatre, which will be premiered in April 2018. Meng is a graduate of Manhattan School of Music, where she studied with Dr. Reiko Fueting. She also studied with Andreia Pinto Correia and Kaija Saariaho.

Meng Wang was selected for the EarShot Jacksonville Symphony Readings for her piece Blooming in the Long Dark Winter’s Night, which will be workshopped and conducted by Music Director Courtney Lewis in a final performance on Friday, April 20 at 8PM. Details here

Meng spoke with us about the piece and what she looks forward to at the readings.

Composer Meng Wang

American Composers Orchestra: What was your reaction to finding out that your piece had been selected for the EarShot Jacksonville Symphony Readings? What are you looking forward to about the program?

Meng Wang: When I first saw my name on the EarShot program this year, I was so excited! Especially when I realized that this would be such a fantastic chance to have my music performed by the incredible Jacksonville Symphony. I started to feel that this trip to Florida would be mean a lot to me.

ACO: Your piece Blooming in the Long Dark Winter’s Night is based on the French symbolist poem "Correspondences" by Charles Pierre Baudelaire. Why did you decide to base your piece on this poem? Is the poem well-suited to your compositional style?

MW: "Correspondences" is a sonnet divided into two quatrain and two tercets. The title of the poem points out what the poem is about, which is to blend all the perceptions. When I was working on this piece, I used the ideas of "blending" and "transforming one thing from another" to organize my orchestration of this piece. We can hear the frequency transferring from different groups in the opening section, and all the sounds blending into a sound field in the slow part. I chose metallic percussion instruments hitting throughout the whole piece to imitate the bell in the ancient temple, which then becomes the most important symbol of this piece.

ACO: What aspects of your piece have you improved or fine-tuned during the readings?

MW: After the two-day intensive rehearsal of my piece with Music Director Courtney Lewis and workshop with three mentors Marcos Balter, Steven Mackey, and Courtney Bryan, my piece has been adjusted in many ways and become more and more mature. For me, this is the most valuable experience during the readings. Now I'm very looking forward to hearing the latest version performing by Jacksonville Symphony on April 20th.

Learn more about Meng Wang at www.mengwangmusic.com
Follow Meng on Facebook and Instagram

The EarShot Jacksonville Symphony Readings culminate in a final performance on Friday, April 20 at 8PM. Details here

Check out Meng's contemporary opera group, Path New Music Theatre, which has an upcoming performance of Meng's chamber opera Simulacrum on June 3-10 in NYC.


Wednesday, April 18, 2018

EarShot Jacksonville Symphony Readings: Composer Spotlight - Ursula Kwong-Brown

Ursula Kwong-Brown (b. 1987) is a composer and media artist from New York City. Described as “atmospheric and accomplished” by The New York Times, her work has been performed in diverse venues including Carnegie Hall, Le Poisson Rouge, Miller Theatre and the Manhattan Movement & Arts Center in New York, the National Portrait Gallery, and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. Awards include a 2017- 2019 fellowship with the Berkeley Symphony, the 2016 George Ladd Prix de Paris Prize, the 2015 Composers, Inc. BAMM Prize, and the 2014 Bowdoin Festival Prize, as well as honors from ASCAP, the New York Composers’ Circle and the Chicago Ensemble. Plans for 2018 include new works for both the Berkeley Symphony and the UC Berkeley Symphony. Currently, Ursula is finishing a Ph.D. in New Media & Music at UC Berkeley with support from a Mellon-Berkeley fellowship.

Ursula was selected for the EarShot Jacksonville Symphony Readings for her piece Night and Day, which will be workshopped and conducted by Music Director Courtney Lewis in a final performance on Friday, April 20 at 8PM. Details here

Ursula spoke with us about the piece and what she looks forward to at the readings.

Composer Ursula Kwong-Brown

American Composers Orchestra: What was your reaction to finding out that your piece had been selected for the EarShot Jacksonville Symphony Readings? What are you looking forward to about the program?

Ursula Kwong-Brown: I was super excited to find out that my piece Night and Day had been selected for the EarShot Jacksonville Symphony Readings. I’ve never heard this work performed before - not even a rehearsal - so I am very much looking forward to hearing it for the first time. Also, I’m looking forward to working with my mentor composer, Steve Mackey, and getting feedback from the orchestral musicians. I just met my fellow composers in the hotel restaurant here in Jacksonville, and I am excited to get to know them and to hear their works, too. 

ACO: Your experience includes some fantastic projects that are far removed from the concert hall, including your sound-art installation Chromatic Counterpoint and research on production and perception of musical intervals in African clawed frogs for Columbia University. Can you talk about why these experiences have been important for you as a composer? Do you think they affect your approach when it comes to writing a conventional orchestral work?

UKB: It’s funny because I rarely think about the influence of my background in science on my compositions, but I think there is a connection between the textures and timbres in the “Night” section of my piece and the many hours that I spent recording and analyzing the calls of crickets and frogs in the nighttime.

ACO: Your piece Night and Day is split into two sections, night in the first half, day in the second. From your program note it seems as if these two sections will contrast quite a bit. What, if any, are the musical elements that tie them together? Is the piece trying to show similarities between night and day, as well as differences?

UKB: Excellent question. To be honest, I really think of this piece as having two separate parts. The one conscious connection that I made was in the orchestration: both start with pizzicato in the strings, but use the pizzicato in very different ways. 

ACO: What aspects of your piece do you hope to improve or fine tune during the readings?​

UKB: It’s hard to say without hearing the piece, but I am open to any and all possible improvements! From the more technical aspects of orchestration to the more musical questions of motivic development.

The EarShot Jacksonville Symphony Readings culminate in a final performance on Friday, April 20 at 8PM. Details here

Learn more about Ursula at www.ursulakwongbrown.com

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

EarShot Jacksonville Symphony Readings: Composer Spotlight - Nicholas Bentz

Nicholas Bentz (b. 1994) is a composer and violinist whose music often takes its inspiration from pieces of literature and poetry, film, and visual art. He has received several esteemed commissions and performances of his music, was Composer-in-Residence for Symphony Number One’s 2016-17 season, and was a finalist for the ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Awards in 2014. Nicholas is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in violin at Peabody Institute and studying composition privately with composer Felipe Lara.

Nicholas was selected for the EarShot Jacksonville Symphony Readings for his piece E.W. Korngold Goes to Nikkatsu, which will be workshopped and conducted by Music Director Courtney Lewis in a final performance on Friday, April 20 at 8PM. Details here

Nicholas spoke with us about the piece and what he looks forward to at the readings.

Composer and violinist Nicholas Bentz

American Composers Orchestra: What was your reaction to finding out that your piece had been selected for the EarShot Jacksonville Symphony Readings? What are you looking forward to about the program?

Nicholas Bentz: When I first found out, I was floored! The orchestral stage is one of the largest for a composer, and it's a steep learning curve that we have to figure out extremely quickly. ACO provides such an amazing program in that you get to learn from your fellow composers as well as mentor composers that have already mastered the game, so to say. I'm really excited to dig into my piece and to see what things I can tinker around to better approach the sound I want to hear. As great as MIDI has become, it doesn't compare to a full orchestra!

ACO: You are both a composer and a performer, with extensive experience studying and playing the violin. How does the performing aspect of your career affect the way you write music? Do you compose on the violin?

NB: I think that being a performer can only positively influence you as a composer. Being an active performer allows you to go through and really get to know so many pieces on a different level. I've always treated orchestra rehearsals like orchestration lessons, seeing what works in the orchestra and what doesn't - seeing what kinds of gestures require additional rehearsal time, and which ones can be executed correctly the first time. Being a performer also forces me to think about the physicality and psychology of the players. I've played through enough pieces where I feel like my part is either extraneous or overbearing, and it's hard to connect to a piece in which you feel that way. I actually don't compose on the violin oddly enough, even though it's easily the instrument I'm the most comfortable on. I oftentimes find myself controlled by the idiomatic nature of the instrument if I ever do try.

ACO: Your program note says that your piece E.W. Korngold Goes to Nikkatsu is based on the idea of using Korngold's musical style to score a Nikkatsu film. Can you talk about the result of combining these two artists' styles into one piece? Did it end up different than you expected when you first had the idea?

NB: When I first set out with the idea of a piece based on the combination of Korngold and Suzuki, I was more than a little apprehensive. I didn't know if there was much overlap between the two artists that I could utilize for myself, but as I watched more and more Suzuki, and got more accustomed to his frenetic and high-octane style, the more comfortable the idea became. The piece definitely came out much different than I planned (which is never a bad thing)!

ACO: What aspects of your piece do you hope to improve or fine tune during the readings?​

NB: I definitely have a few gestures and textures that I want to see if I got right, and how to make them more like what I hear. It's also always good to look towards possible balance issues and to see how those work out, and how I can best improve those situations.

The EarShot Jacksonville Symphony Readings culminate in a final performance on Friday, April 20 at 8PM. Details here

Learn more about Nicholas at www.nicholasbentz.net
Follow him on Soundcloud and Facebook

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Dreamscapes: Q&A with Clarice Assad

Clarice Assad is a Brazilian-American Grammy-nominated composer, pianist, vocalist, bandleader and educator. She has been commissioned by Carnegie Hall, Orquestra Sinfônica de São Paulo, Albany Symphony, BRAVO! Vail Music Festival, and her works have been recorded by Yo-Yo Ma, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, Eugenia Zuckerman, Chanticleer, and Liang Wang. Assad is a founding member of the Chicago-based music and poetry publishing company Virtual Artists Collective and VOXPloration, an award-winning research based outreach program and workshop for children and adolescents on spontaneous music creation, composition, and improvisation.

Clarice's piece Dreamscapes for violin and chamber orchestra is based loosely on Assad’s research on the subject of rapid eye movement (REM) and lucid dreaming. The piece follows a storyline based on notes Assad made about her own dreams, and depicts her struggle to have a pleasant dreaming experience against the strong subconscious draw of negativity.

ACO gives the New York premiere of Dreamscapes with violinist Elena Urioste on Friday, April 6, 2018, 7:30PM at Carnegie Hall's Zankel Hall. Click here for concert details and tickets.


Clarice Assad. PC: Amara Photo.
"One of Brazil's brightest young composers" – Gramophone

American Composers Orchestra: In addition to composing, you are an accomplished singer/pianist and a dedicated educator as co-founder of VOXploration. Can you compare the concert experience as a composer (sitting in the audience listing to a performance of your piece) vs. a performer (on stage and performing your own music)? Do you find one more nerve-wracking than the other?

Clarice Assad: I think being exposed is the nerve-wracking part in either scenario, but it might be more so when I am sitting from an audience. When I perform, I am so preoccupied with the music that I am playing, that I tend to forget about everything else to focus mostly on doing justice to that piece (which most of the time, is music written by other composers…). When my own music being performed by other musicians, I will think about a million things per second. Ultimately though, it’s just an amazing moment to be inside of, having my music performed by people who took the time to learn it and are sharing it with others. The butterflies in the stomach turn out to be a good thing.

ACO: The human voice is the centerpiece of many of your works and performances, including your well-known singing scat concerto which you have performed all over the world. Can you talk about the influence the human voice has, if any, in your instrumental music? The violin is an inherently lyrical instrument -- did you write the solo violin part in Dreamscapes almost as if it was a singing part?

CA: Maybe I unconsciously write for other instruments thinking about the voice, because it is such an important part of my musical life! Dreamscapes is not really singable, though. It has lyrical moments, but I was more concerned about the different emotions and change of scenarios that take place, and the interplay between the orchestra and the soloist.

ACO: As a Brazilian-American who speaks Portuguese, Spanish, French, Italian and English, can you talk about how your music has been influenced, affected, or guided by these languages?

CA: When I think of languages I think of cultures, so yes, I think somehow speaking other languages may influence the way in which we organize thoughts. I traveled frequently to France as a child and this experience deeply influenced me in every area of my life. Traveling at a young age also meant that I came in contact with people from other nationalities, so this may have given me a sense of familiarity with cultures that were not my own, and carte blanche to write in styles and genres that might not have come from my place of origin. I still feel a sense of belonging to more than one place at once.

ACO: Your Dreamscapes violin concerto is inspired by your research on the subject of rapid eye movement (REM) and lucid dreaming, and follows a storyline based on notes you made about her own dreams. Did the process of composing this piece change the way you think about dreams? Did it change anything about your actual dreams?

CA: I have an overactive mind and have had a handful of anxiety related problems affecting sleep. I've experienced many events of sleep paralysis which were petrifying until I knew how to handle them, so I began reading a lot about the brain and sleep. Writing this piece was the way I found to exteriorize what happened in my own mind, obviously because vivid dreams were a constant part of my life. I am in a better place now, having found ways to cope with these symptoms, and the silver lining was to turn vivid dreams into a piece of music. 

ACO: What are you looking forward to about the upcoming performance?

CA: Everything. The performance, hearing the orchestra, the soloist,  the hall, and the experience of re-visiting a work that is now completing 10 years of existence!

ACO gives the New York premiere of Dreamscapes with violinist Elena Urioste on Friday, April 6, 2018, 7:30PM at Carnegie Hall's Zankel Hall. Click here for concert details and tickets.

Learn more about Clarice at www.clariceassad.com
Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, InstagramYouTube, and Soundcloud


Thursday, March 1, 2018

EarShot Charlotte Symphony Readings: Composer Spotlight - Felipe Nieto

Composer Felipe Nieto (b. 1988), originally from Bogota (Colombia) has received first prize at the annual PUBLIQuartet Composition Competition, first prize at the Exit 128 Ensemble Composition Competition, Honorable Mentions at the Buffalo Chamber Players Call-for-Scores and the Boston Guitar Festival Composition Competition, and is a two-time recipient of the Smadbeck Prize for Music Composition at Ithaca College.

Recent engagements include his assignment as Assistant Artistic Director of Las Americas en Concierto (New York) and collaborations with Brower Trio (Spain), Vox n Plux (New York), and the Bogota Chamber Orchestra (Colombia). Felipe holds a Bachelor of Music in Composition from Oklahoma City University where he studied with Edward Knight and a Master of Music in Composition from Ithaca College where he studied with Jorge Grossmann and Dana Wilson.

Felipe was selected for the EarShot Charlotte Symphony Readings for his piece Artesania Sonora, which will be workshopped and conducted by Assistant Conductor Christopher James Lees in a final read-through on Thursday, March 1, 2018 at 10am. Details here.

Felipe spoke with us about the piece and what he looks forward to at the readings.

Composer Felipe Nieto. Photo by Hugo Mantellato

American Composers Orchestra: What was your reaction to finding out that Artesania Sonora had been selected for the EarShot Charlotte Symphony Readings? What are you looking forward to about the program?

Felipe Nieto: I was thrilled!! I have never work with a professional orchestra. Insight into how things work at that level is very valuable.

I look forward to really digging into the score and fix it as much as possible with the aid of everyone's input. There are so many sides... the orchestra, the conductor, the mentors etc. I am really looking forward to compile everything they have to say.

ACO: Your bio mentions political commentary as one of the themes you aim to address with your music. Does Artesania Sonora make any kind of political statement, either directly or indirectly?

FN: I have written works that make some commentary regarding politics. I think most prominently my string quartet, which is a sort of offertorium to a man that influenced me a lot ideologically but that was assassinated as a consequence of his outspokenness. His name is Jaime Garzon, a political satirist from my native Colombia with a talent of proportions that I have not seen since his death. Jaime was a true activist. He used humor to change and challenge things. In my opinion, he was very very funny but he wasn't joking. I dedicated my quartet to him.

That being said, my "artisanal" pieces are not to be interpreted politically. At least not in essence considering that it is hard for me to imagine something being completely "apolitical" but, Artesania Sonora is a work that is purely focused and inspired by the idea of creating a sonic entity that is the result of actual manual work. I work a lot on the paper designing the different structures that will appear in the piece. Shape and gesture are very important as well as rhythm.

ACO: You write that Artesania Sonora is inspired in part by gold artisanal work from the indigenous cultures of South America, particularly the Colombian territory where you come from, where "form and content are earned and not exposed from the outset." Can you talk about the ways in which this idea is presented in your piece? Are there any other influences from Colombia or South America in the piece?

FN: Lately I have been very interested in composing pieces that borrow the approach that indigenous people's from Colombia used to carve their gold figures. Their artisanal craft is so remarkable, expressive and mystical all at the same time. I take a look at what they do and try to apply this to the music and, most importantly, to the score. The result, is music that has the qualities of the figures: imperfect symmetries, repeated patterns, continuity (since these figures are not assembled but are made in one piece), angular shapes and so on...

In regards to the idea of "form and content being earned", this came about because of the unavoidable issue of music happening over time. The artisanal figure is, for us, a finished product; but in music I had to come up with a way to get there. So, I decided that the orchestra was going to carve the piece in real time in front of the audience. In this piece the music starts with a very open texture that we slowly start to break into different shapes and forms until the work achieves a complex layered structure.

ACO: What aspects of Artesania Sonora do you hope to improve or fine tune during the readings?

FN: I think the readings will help solve many of the technical difficulties of my proposal and will also help reveal wether or not I am close to achieve my ideal. I am really looking forward to hear the orchestra execute the work and see if it is translating well.

The EarShot Charlotte Symphony Readings culminate in a final read-through which is free and open to the public -- Thursday, March 1, 2018 at 10am. Details here.

Learn more about Felipe at www.facebook.com/FelipeNScomposer


EarShot Charlotte Symphony Readings: Composer Spotlight - Niloufar Iravani

Composer Niloufar Iravani studied piano and composition at the University of Tehran, Iran – receiving several national honors including the second rank in the field of Musical Arts at the National Master Degree Examination – before starting the PhD in Music Composition at Louisiana State University, under the supervision of Prof. Dinos Contantinides. She is now the graduate teaching assistant and the coordinator of the Composers Forum at LSU. Her music has been performed in Iran, Greece, and the USA by great ensembles and soloists including Athanasios Zervas, Maria Asteriadou, Kostas Tiliakos, Angela Draghicescu, and Amalia Sagona. The Summer 2017 concert series at Baton Rouge libraries, conducted by Prof. Constantinides, featured her work, Shadows in Chase, for string quartet. Recent highlights include the performance of DIR for solo violin at LMTA 65th Annual Convention at the University of New Orleans and the performance of Seven for fixed media for seven channels at the University of Tennessee Contemporary Music Festival.

Niloufar was selected for the EarShot Charlotte Symphony Readings for her piece Fantasy, which will be workshopped and conducted by Assistant Conductor Christopher James Lees in a final read-through on Thursday, March 1, 2018 at 10am. Details here.

Niloufar spoke with us about the piece and what she looks forward to at the readings.

Composer Niloufar Iravani. Photo by Afarinesh Studio

American Composers Orchestra: What was your reaction to finding out that Fantasy had been selected for the EarShot Charlotte Symphony Readings? What are you looking forward to about the program?

Niloufar Iravani: I felt very surprised when I found out that my work has been selected for EarShot Charlotte Symphony Readings. It is my first orchestral piece that I composed in 2013 as part of my Master’s thesis. The piece has never read or performed, so this is going to be a great opportunity for me to listen to it, feel it, and learn from it! I am very looking forward to the program to experience the reading of my piece by a professional orchestra, work with the mentor composers and the conductor, and learn from the community.

ACO: Your program note for Fantasy says that the piece aims to demonstrate your "innovative and personal approach to the concept of fantasy as a musical genre." Can you elaborate on this? What is your definition of fantasy as a musical genre? What is your approach to composing music in this genre?

NI: From the imaginative and improvisational works of Italian lute performers in the sixteenth century to freely composed pieces of the twentieth century, fantasy has had a long interesting story in the history of Western music. Some believe that the ideal fantasy should be very free; any obligation leads to shutting down the innovation! In my piece, I tried to be very free in presenting the thematic materials through meaningful patterns, repetitions, and formal structures as well as the dynamic use of rhythm, register, and texture.

ACO: What aspects of Fantasy do you hope to improve or fine tune during the readings?

NI: I would like to find out how my thoughts and ideas sound by a real orchestra. I hope to see the performers and the conductor happy, excited, and interested in the piece. I’ll surely find and learn the ways to improve it and make it as comfortable and realistic as possible for everyone. This would undoubtedly include specific attention to articulation, techniques, and dynamics.

The EarShot Charlotte Symphony Readings culminate in a final read-through which is free and open to the public -- Thursday, March 1, 2018 at 10am. Details here.

Learn more about Niloufar at www.niloufariravani.com
Follow her on Facebook, YouTube, and SoundCloud


Tuesday, February 6, 2018

EarShot Fort Wayne Philharmonic Readings: Composer Spotlight - Nathan Kelly

Composer Nathan Kelly's music reflects his eclectic mix of musical experiences, from playing gospel piano in East Texas churches, to Broadway in pit orchestras in New York City, to bands on cruise ships around the world, to working in Hollywood with music producers and film composers. He has orchestrated for artists such as Dionne Warwick, Rod Stewart, Jackie Evancho, Andrea Bocelli, Jennifer Lopez; Broadway shows (Gypsy, Curtains, The Tony Awards); TV’s Macy's 4th of July Fireworks on NBC, Audra McDonald on PBS and more; and was recently a Visiting Artist at The American Academy in Rome.

Nathan was selected for the EarShot Fort Wayne Philharmonic Readings for his piece Redwood, which will be workshopped and conducted by Music Director Andrew Constantine in a final read-through on Wednesday, February 7, 2018. Details here.

Nathan spoke with us about the piece and what he looks forward to at the readings.

Composer Nathan Kelly

American Composers Orchestra: In addition to composing contemporary classical works, your career includes orchestrations for many major artists, Broadway, and TV productions. Can you talk about how your composing process differs when composing in these two very different settings?

Nathan Kelly: ​Orchestrating for other people is a lot of guessing what the composer's intentions are - if they really mean these pitches, these durations, these instruments, this key or is anything you're given just an approximation of an effect or are you supposed to enhance it, to re-write it and to what degree should you add or subtract.  It's a big guess and you do better, the more you work with the composer, as opposed to when writing my own things, you I don't have to guess.  

ACO: What are you looking forward to about the workshops and readings?

NK: ​I'm looking forward to hearing it and seeing how it comes to life and what things I did really work well and what things take more work or could be better.
 ​
ACO: What aspects of Redwood do you hope to improve or fine tune?​

​I anticipate possibly rewriting one section that is aleotoric notation with a deliberately thick orchestration (done so, because it's easier to subtract instruments than write them in on the stand).  There are a few spots with some cues written in that say "Cue: Play if asked" and if time allows, I might want to hear some passages on other instruments. 

The EarShot Fort Wayne Philharmonic Readings culminate in a final read-through which is free and open to the public -- Wednesday, February 7, 2018 at 7:30pm. Details here.

Learn more about Nathan at www.nathankelly.com


Monday, February 5, 2018

EarShot Fort Wayne Philharmonic Readings: Composer Spotlight - Sohwa Lee

Korean-born composer and theorist Sohwa Lee (b. 1987) received Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in composition at Sungshin Women’s University in Seoul. She currently studies music composition and theory at Mannes School of Music in New York City.

Sohwa was selected for the EarShot Fort Wayne Philharmonic Readings for her piece Palindrome, which will be workshopped and conducted by Music Director Andrew Constantine in a final read-through on Wednesday, February 7, 2018. Details here.

Sohwa spoke with us about the piece and what she looks forward to at the readings.

Composer Sohwa Lee

American Composers Orchestra: Your biography says that you strongly embrace a sense of humor in your approach to music. Can you talk about the ways that this manifests itself? What specific musical elements might the audience recognize as humorous? Is humor a feature of your selected piece Palindrome?

Sohwa Lee: Shortly after moving to New York, I had a big realization about myself. I used to work alone and I think I made myself pretty isolated. It was bringing a sense of inflexibility to my music, almost like a textbook. Now, I have come to realize the importance of interacting and being inspired by other people and with that, how humor is always a good way to break the ice. Music is one of the languages that I can speak, so as a composer, I have found that humor is an important tool in that language as well. I want people to feel happy and to have fun when they listen to my music. In the middle of Palindrome, there is a moment to me evokes the image of toy soldiers, almost like video game music. Overall, it is a serious piece of music – a palindrome is a complex form to write a piece based on – but I wanted to include some fun and relaxed moments.

ACO: You have created a new arrangement of Palindrome for the Fort Wayne Philharmonic Orchestra EarShot Readings from the original version premiered by the Mannes School of Music Orchestra. Can you talk about some of the orchestration decisions you had to make? Is there anything that you are particularly excited (or nervous) to hear when FW Phil performs this version for the first time?

SL: The new arrangement was created just for a practical reason: FW Phil has no piano (which is common) so I had to change that part of the piece. Other than that it's not very different than the version Mannes Orchestra premiered. I’m sure that FW Phil will perform it wonderfully.

ACO: Can you talk about the Gamelan music and Asian themes you use in Palindrome?

SL: I used these elements to make a contrast with the first section. I get a lot of inspiration from music from the early 1900s, when a lot of composers were being influenced by music from Asia.

ACO: What are you looking forward to about the workshops and readings? What aspects of Palindrome do you hope to improve or fine tune?

I look forward to seeing the other composers in the workshops. Meeting other composers always give me inspiration and motivation because composers always work hard.

I know my strengths and weaknesses in music. Palindrome is the first symphony piece that I’ve written so far. My process for composing Palindrome was meticulous and thorough, but there are always areas you know could be better. I wish I had more clear score for performers. I think that's the most important job as a composer in my side.

The EarShot Fort Wayne Philharmonic Readings culminate in a final read-through which is free and open to the public -- Wednesday, February 7, 2018 at 7:30pm. Details here.

Follow Sohwa on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Soundcloud.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

EarShot Fort Wayne Philharmonic Readings: Composer Spotlight - Robert Rankin

Robert Rankin (b. 1994) is an Indiana-based composer who writes music characterized by colorful orchestration, a neoclassical nod to the past, and a deep love of narrative storytelling through music. Commissions and performances have come from the Burning Coal Theater Company, the Lux Quartet, Split The Lark, and in 2015 Robert was named “Emerging Composer” at New York's Tribeca New Music for his Clarinet Quartet.

Robert was selected for the EarShot Fort Wayne Philharmonic Readings for his piece Nijinsky Dances, which will be workshopped and conducted by Music Director Andrew Constantine in a final read-through on Wednesday, February 7, 2018. Details here.

Robert spoke with us about the piece and what he looks forward to at the readings.

Composer Robert Rankin. Photo by Kevin Madison

American Composers Orchestra: Your piece Nijinsky Dances is named after 20th-century choreographer Valslav Nijinsky, who choreographed landmark ballets such as Debussy’s L’après-midi d’un faune, Strauss’ Till Eulenspiegel, and Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps. Trying to set aside the incredibly evocative scores, is Nijinsky's choreography something you take inspiration from as a composer?

Robert Rankin: I thankfully figured out in my undergrad that an “artist” can learn a ton about the creative process by watching people from the other arts do their thing. For instance, taking a poetry class taught me so much about how to think about form and narrative in a unique way and how that relates to music. Regrettably, I know very little choreography but the one aspect that continues to shock me is that there is no formal notation per say for preserving ballet. So in turn, as a composer, it makes me think that the product that the audience hears (sees in the case of dance) is more important than the notes on the page.

Specifically speaking of Nijinsky’s choreography, I think most people are familiar with his work in Le Sacre, but there is this amazing video on YouTube that shows the original choreography for L’après-midi d’un faune and it is as radical if not more so than Le Sacre. It was really surprising to me! I watched a lot of really grainy archival footage of Nijinsky while writing the piece.



ACO: You write in your program notes that the piece makes subtle reference to the masterful orchestration of these scores. Can you talk about the ways in which you do this?

RR: The way I basically learned how to compose was by checking loads of scores out of the library when I was in high school. Most were large orchestral scores so I’ve been in love with this quintessential early 20th century style of shimmering, colorful orchestration for a long time. Ravel, Stravinsky, and Debussy all had an uncanny sense of mixing orchestral colors in a brilliant way but never overloading the entire piece with constant tutti passages to weigh it down. In turn, in my piece, I tried to give the orchestration that colorful shimmer and gestural flare that is so iconic in those early ballet scores of especially Ravel and Stravinsky. And there is a section about a quarter way through that is just straight up quotation of Petrushka and Daphis and Chole (just as nudge nudge wink wink moment to the audience).

ACO: What are you looking forward to about the workshops and readings? What aspects of Nijinsky Dances do you hope to improve or fine tune?

RR: I’m really looking forward to the whole experience to be honest. I hope to sponge up as much information as possible. The people I know that have been through similar Earshot Readings have had nothing but positive things to say about the entire experience. Additionally, this has given me the opportunity to rework a few moments in Nijinsky Dances that didn’t quite work when it was initially played.

The EarShot Fort Wayne Philharmonic Readings culminate in a final read-through which is free and open to the public -- Wednesday, February 7, 2018 at 7:30pm. Details here.

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Friday, January 12, 2018

Fellow Travelers: Q&A with composer Gregory Spears

Gregory Spears is the composer of the critically acclaimed new opera Fellow Travelers, which receives its New York premiere January 12-14 at PROTOTYPE Festival, co-presented with John Jay College of Criminal Justice and American Composers Orchestra.

The work of Gregory Spears, whose relationship with ACO extends back to his participation in our 2001 New Music Readings, has been called “astonishingly beautiful” (The New York Times), “coolly entrancing” (The New Yorker), and “some of the most beautifully unsettling music to appear in recent memory” (The Boston Globe). Based on Thomas Mallon’s 2007 novel, Fellow Travelers is an extraordinary personal journey through the intriguing, gut-wrenching world of the 1950s American witch-hunts, and the often overlooked “Lavender Scare.” Tenor Aaron Blake stars as Timothy Laughlin, a recent college grad eager to join the crusade against Communism. A encounter with handsome State Department official Hawkins Fuller (baritone Joseph Lattanzi) leads to Tim’s first job, an illicit love affair with a man.

Gregory was kind enough to answer a few questions about the opera, as well as his relationship with ACO over the years.

Composer Gregory Spears. Photo by Dario Acosta

American Composers Orchestra: When did you first read Thomas Mallon's 2007 novel Fellow Travelers and what was your initial impression? Did you immediately realize its potential to become an opera, or was that sometime later?

Gregory Spears: [Director] Kevin Newbury and [Executive Producer] Sterling Zinsmeyer first introduced [librettist] Greg Pierce and me to the book, and asked whether we thought it could be an opera. I think I was most drawn to the way Mallon depicts the excitement and danger of first love, and then shows the effects of the political turmoil and homophobia swirling within the state department in the 1950s on that relationship. I also really wanted to write an opera about ordinary people, so I liked that the central characters weren’t historical figures.

ACO: In your program notes, you write that in the music you “looked for ways to express the innuendo-driven world of Hawk and Tim while maintaining a relatively cool musical surface.” Since opera is not often associated with a “cool musical surface,” can you talk about this stylistic decision? Was there any part of you worried about not having enough of the traditionally big, dramatic opera moments?

GS: Well I would like to emphasize the word “relatively” as there is still a fair share of anguished singing in Fellow Travelers as well as orchestral outbursts. But yes, in opera specifically, I try to avoid writing music that tells a listener what to feel or music that directly represents or underlines a character's feelings from moment to moment. I agree with John Cage who once said: “I don’t mind being moved, but I don’t like to be pushed.” So I think a lot about how one might create dramatic tension without underlining a character’s emotions in a typical 19th century way. For me it’s an interesting paradox to ponder. I’m also really inspired by the many American composers who use what I think of as a “cool musical surface” to create what I find to be moving and dramatic music. Meredith Monk, Robert Ashley, and of course David Lang are just a few examples.

ACO: This is not the first time you and ACO have crossed paths. You were a participant in our 2001 New Music Readings, where you workshopped your orchestra work Circle Stories, and the ACO/Penn Presents New Music Readings in 2007, where you worked on Finishing. Can you talk about the influence these experiences had on your musical career? Was there anything that carried into your compositional process for Fellow Travelers?

GS: Those were both wonderful experiences, both as a chance to hear those pieces read by pros but also as practice for all the technical and editorial challenges involved with music preparation. Visualizing an orchestra in an actual space is the best way for me to begin thinking about orchestration. And in many cases, I visualize the ACO in the same room where my orchestral piece was read back in 2001. That’s how vivid the memory is!

ACO: What has working with George Manahan and ACO been like for this production?

GS: Working with George and the ACO have been wonderful! George has the calm confidence and experience which is absolutely necessary in the theater where there are so many things happening at once. That  comes with lots of experience and sets the singers and also the composer at ease.

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Fellow Travelers opens at the PROTOTYPE Festival on Friday, January 12, 8PM at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Additional performances on Jan. 13 (2pm & 8pm) and Jan. 14 (2pm). More information here

Learn more about Gregory Spears at www.gregoryspears.com