Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Past Forward: Composer Spotlight - David Hertzberg

David Hertzberg is currently Composer-in-Residence with Opera Philadelphia and Music Theatre Group and has been honored with the Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, two ASCAP Morton Gould Awards, the Fromm Commission from Harvard University, and the Aaron Copland Award from Copland House. Past residencies include Tanglewood, Yaddo, IC Hong Kong, the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, and Young Concert Artists.

David's Spectre of the Spheres was selected for our 2015 Underwood New Music Readings, where it earned him the $15,000 Underwood Commission to write a new orchestral work. David's Chamber Symphony is this new work, and will be premiered by Maestro George Manahan and the American Composers Orchestra at “Past Forward” on Friday, March 24, 2017 at 7:30pm in Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall. David was kind enough to talk with us about the piece.

Composer David Hertzberg

American Composers Orchestra: Your description of Chamber Symphony, which is very poetic, says, "voices speak to one other across vistas, from different sides of time, finding resonances both sympathetic and volatile." Can you expand upon this? What do you mean by these "voices," "different sides of time," and "resonances both sympathetic and volatile"?

David Hertzberg: When I was awarded the Underwood Commission I knew that I wanted to write something for Maestro Manahan and the ACO that was different from, more rhetorically involved than my other orchestra pieces. I had this vague idea that I wanted it to be a symphony of sorts, whatever that means. The orchestra pieces that I have written up to this point all have flowing, organic forms, in which listeners are brought into a space in which they coexist with a musical organism, breathing and acting of its own accord. My Chamber Symphony, I think, shares this quality, but I feel there is more rhetorical depth in its argument, a gradual unraveling and coalescing of musical dualities - maybe that’s what made me feel the need to call it a symphony.

ACO: Chamber Symphony is your Underwood Commission which you won after participating in the Underwood New Music Readings and Workshops in 2015. Can you talk about anything you learned in the readings and workshops that you applied when composing your commission?

DH: The Underwood readings and the opportunity to work with Mo. Manahan and the ACO have served as an invaluable tool for me as an orchestral composer. In addition to the more pragmatic insights about instrumentation and the orchestra world, hearing them interpret my Spectre of the Spheres in 2015 helped me arrive at the musical conclusions described above, to dig deeper into my own orchestral ethos, and to find the place there wherein a more dynamic musical grammar can blossom.

David at the 2015 Underwood New Music Readings, rehearsing his piece Spectre of the Spheres with Maestro Manahan and the ACO

ACO: Can you talk about your composing process for Chamber Symphony? How long have you been working on it? What have been the milestones and challenges throughout the process?

DH: I generally compose by letting the music gestate internally for a long (or not so long) time. When ideas start to congeal, the actual writing part comes quickly, as was the case with this piece, though I had been living with the material for quite some time. I also feel this piece bears the influence of an opera I was (and still am) writing for Opera Philadelphia, freely inspired by the work of the British occultist Aleister Crowley, as well as the poetry of Wallace Stevens, whose deeply human voice has always been a wellspring of inspiration for me. 

ACO: How do you hope the audience will feel, and what do you hope they'll notice while listening to Chamber Symphony at its premiere?

DH: It is my hope that listeners will let themselves live in the metaphysical space of this music, and perhaps, feel a certain wholeness, oneness, in the arc of its form.

ACO: What are you most looking forward to at the premiere?

DH: Hearing these notes and sounds that I’ve dreamed up in these past months come to life, and be interpreted in the hands of such sensitive and intrepid (!) artists.

Follow David on Twitter and Soundcloud

Hear the world premiere of David’s Chamber Symphony at “Past Forward” on Friday, March 24, 2017 at 7:30pm in Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Past Forward: Composer Spotlight - Trevor Weston

Trevor Weston is a composer of choral, opera and orchestral music, with esteemed commissions for The Boston Children’s Chorus, The Washington Chorus, Trilogy: An Opera Company, Manhattan Choral Ensemble, and Boston Landmarks Orchestra. His honors include the George Ladd Prix de Paris from the University of California, Berkeley, a Goddard Lieberson Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and residencies at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and the MacDowell Colony. 

Trevor’s musical education began at the prestigious St. Thomas Choir school in NYC at the age of 10. He received his B.A. from Tufts University and continued his studies at the University of California, Berkeley, where he earned his M.A. and Ph.D. in Music Composition.

Flying Fish, co-commissioned by American Composers Orchesta and Carnegie Hall, honors Trevor’s Barbadian heritage, and will be premiered at “Past Forward” on Friday, March 24, 2017 at 7:30pm in Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall. Trevor was kind enough to talk with us about the piece.

Composer Trevor Weston

American Composers Orchestra: Choral music has featured prominently in your education and career, with several prestigious choral works to your name. Can you talk about the influence choral music had when it came to composing Flying Fish, which is a purely instrumental work for orchestra?

Trevor Weston: In many ways, Flying Fish brings together my experiences writing instrumental and choral music. Singing Psalms in the Anglican choral tradition has been an important part of my musical development. I remember singing these chants in my home church in New Jersey with my family from the age of six. Later, when I became a choirboy at St. Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, Anglican Chants were performed for every service. As I grew older, I became more aware of the cultural significance of these chants with my parents and their Barbadian friends. In fact, I know many Bajans (Barbadians) who can sing chant tunes from memory when the psalm number is given. For this reason, I decided to begin the last movement of Flying Fish, “Chapel Street” with Anglican Chant-like chords that eventually become a Soca dance. Soca music (Soul + Calypso) is an important popular musical genre in Barbados. There are hints of Soca music in the first movement that are eventually realized in a more full-throated dance in the last movement. In some ways, I wanted Flying Fish to highlight the cultural influences of both Africa and Europe in Bajan culture. I also thought that it would be appropriate to include my experience with psalms on a concert honoring Steve Reich’s seminal work using psalms, Tehillim.

ACO: You write that Flying Fish honors the African roots of Barbadian culture and African diasporic expression, with the flying fish as a prominent symbol of Barbados' culture and your own childhood memories. Can you talk about how the flying fish is represented in your piece and how it resonates with the African roots you describe?

TW: I grew up in a Caribbean American household in Plainfield, NJ. Flying fish appear in the logo to the pub/restaurant my cousin owns in Barbados, The Fisherman’s Pub. This pub was owned by my grandparents and mother worked with her parents in the pub when she was young. I can’t remember a time when I did not see images of flying fish. These animals have always conjured up ideas of magic and mythology. In 1996, I saw flying fish in nature for the first time when a family friend took me out in a boat off the coast of Barbados. Whizzing through the air just above the water, the fish made a high-pitched fluttering sound. In my composition, I use metallic percussion instruments and woodwinds to represent the shiny silvery fish zipping through the air. The fish leap out of the water to avoid predators. The music of Flying Fish also quickly changes direction as if avoiding being caught by predictable developments. 

Like all islands in the Caribbean, Barbados is populated with people of African descent who brought their culture with them during the Atlantic slave trade. West African approaches to creating music can be heard in the music of the Caribbean and the US. Olly Wilson, a wonderful mentor composer-scholar, taught me that the connection between West African Music and Music of the African Diaspora is heard in their shared approaches to creating music. These shared approaches include using call and response structures, performing in a percussive manner, and creating rhythmic clashes in music. Steel Pan music and Soca music reflect these approaches to music creation. Specifically, in Flying Fish, I make musical references to Tuk Band music, an indigenous Barbadian folk music comprised of a small instrumental ensemble: snare drum, bass drum and piccolo/fife. The drummers play rhythmically clashing music to accompany the folk melody on the fife. This music has always sounded African to me. I transcribed rhythms from Tuk Band recordings and used these rhythmic cells in the first and third movements of Flying Fish.

Example of Tuk Band music:

ACO: Can you talk about your composing process for Flying Fish? How long have you been working on it? What have been the milestones and challenges throughout the process?

TW: Flying Fish began as a personal challenge: Compose a first movement with constant forward motion and energy like Stravinsky’s Les Noces. I wanted to compose music that forced me to take risks. I started compiling sketches of rhythmic (Tuk Band rhythms) and melodic material in 2016. This is my normal first step in the compositional process. All of my sketches were influenced by images and videos of flying fish. In some photos, the fish create intriguing repetitive patterns in the water. I decided that repeating patterns should help guide melodic, rhythmic, and formal material. When Derek Bermel and I first discussed the piece last year, he mentioned a theme of identity for the March 24 concert. I chose flying fish because they have been an ever present image in my life and a very personal one. In addition to referencing my Bajan background, I wanted to use rhythmic patterns I have been beating, as a nervous percussive, my whole life (rhythmic patterns that I often create during down time) but rarely use in my music. With the overall concept in place – a shiny magical animal, elusive motion and direction, Bajan identity, personal music patterns, and rhythmic and pitch material that embodied these ideas – I conceived of an overall form and dramatic development of the work. Combining all of these elements, in the end, was both a milestone and challenge. When I started composing the work, I was not sure if I could effectively combine all of the personal elements listed above. That doubt persisted throughout the composition process, making the completed work a significant milestone. 

ACO: How do you hope the audience will feel, and what do you hope they'll notice while listening to Flying Fish at its premiere?

TW: I hope that Flying Fish is intriguing to the audience. I like blending familiar and unfamiliar material to create music that resonates with listeners while at the same time challenging them.   

ACO: What are you most looking forward to at the premiere?

TW: Listening to live music brings communities together. After spending months with Flying Fish in my head, I look forward to the experience of hearing the work with an audience. 

Learn more about Trevor Weston at

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Past Forward: Composer Spotlight - Paola Prestini

Paola Prestini is an “enterprising composer and impresario” (The New York Times), named one of Musical America’s “Top 30 Musical Innovators 2016” and one of NPR’s “Top 100 Composers in the World under 40.” Her works includes commissions by Carnegie Hall, the Chicago Symphony, New York Philharmonic, New York City Opera, and Kronos Quartet. 

Paola is the Creative and Executive Director of National Sawdust, a nonprofit Brooklyn-based space for arts incubation, performance, and recording, and serves as “visionary-in-chief” (Time Out New York) of VisionIntoArt, the non-profit multimedia production company she co-founded as a student in 1999. 

Incorporating powerful visual and dramatic components, Paola’s multimedia creations address such extra-musical issues as conservation, astrophysics, and politics. 

We spoke to her about her new piece, The Hotel That Time Forgot, an ACO commission with support from the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation, which will be premiered at “Past Forward” on Friday, March 24, 2017 at 7:30pm in Carnegie Hall’s Zankel HallThe Hotel That Time Forgot features visuals by Mami Kosemura.

Composer Paola Prestini

American Composers Orchestra: You write that in The Hotel That Time Forgot, you wanted to create a sonic orchestral world to relive the memories of The Grand Hotel Palmyra, a hotel in Lebanon across the border from Syria that has not closed its doors since opening in 1894, even as war has raged just outside its doors. Can you talk about these memories and how they are represented in the piece?

Paola Prestini: The memories are observed through flashes in the video [by Mami Kosemura], which is distilled through a keyhole. A mother pouring water to wash oneself in a basin, a suspended chandelier crystal, a child playing, shadows. Everyday action is presented motivically throughout the work and is then deconstructed. Slides in the music are meant to dissolve memories and to mimic the distortion in the film.

Watch the short documentary on The Grand Hotel Palmyra that inspired Paola to write this piece:

ACO: The passing of time seems to be a major theme in your subject material, and also the visuals by Mami Kosemura – you write that "a pendulum gives the viewer the sense of loss of time, and blurred memories." Can you talk about how time, maybe more specifically this pendulum, is represented in the music?

PP: The Pendulum swings in 45 second installments, and this became a defining structural pillar of the piece. The vibraphone is used as time “hits” to give the sense of a clock striking on the hour. The pendulum lends a certain static quality to the work – I wanted to give the viewer a keyhole look into the joy, anxieties, and subtleties of everyday life, with no apex in the music. The actions continue, time never stands still, and even though memories distort and blur and fade, the pendulum of time continues. The irony and tragedy is that Hotel Palmyra will most likely not continue forever, as it is in a warn torn zone. I had hoped to one day visit, but for now, the stills I’ve seen and film specials on the beauty of the hotel are what I had to go on.

ACO: Can you talk about your composing process for The Hotel That Time Forgot? How long have you been working on it? What have been the milestones and challenges throughout the process?

PP: I have been working on the piece for several months – with Mami conceptually first, and then, as a response to the work. I had a language that I created away from the film, and once I had written that out on the piano, I then worked with the film in mind, orchestrating and fleshing out the music, while keying into specific moments and key points I wanted to emphasize in the visuals.

ACO: How do you hope the audience will feel, and what do you hope they'll notice while listening to The Hotel That Time Forgot at its premiere?

PP: I feel like this piece, unlike other works of mine, does not have a distinct feeling I want people to feel – not joy, or sadness, or nostalgia. It slides in and out of indistinct memories that have no specific urgency or clear emotion. I want the feeling of the piece to be more of a haze, one that you enter, and that leaves you wanting to keep looking in, hoping to see more, notice more, until the keyhole closes after ten minutes.

ACO: What are you most looking forward to at the premiere?

PP: The chance to hear an amazing orchestra play my work! I’ve been working in multimedia structures for the past twenty years, but don’t often get to work with orchestral tapestries, and I am thrilled to do so under the new tenure of ACO’s new president Ed Yim, and with my brilliant collaborator, Mami Kosemura.

Stills from Mami Kosemura’s visuals:

Mami Kosemura, Installation of Pendulum at Dillon + Lee Gallery, HD video, 20 min, color, silent, 2016. Courtesy Dillion + Lee Gallery.

Mami Kosemura, Installation of Pendulum at Dillon + Lee Gallery, HD video, 20 min, color, silent, 2016. Courtesy Dillion + Lee Gallery.

Mami Kosemura, Video Stills from Pendulum, HD video, 20 min, color, silent, 2016. Courtesy Dillion + Lee Gallery.

Follow Paola on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram

See the world premiere of Paola’s The Hotel The Time Forgot at “Past Forward” on Friday, March 24, 2017 at 7:30pm in Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall.

Q&A with composer Julia Adolphe, 2015 Toulmin Commission Winner

Julia Adolphe’s music has been described as “alive with invention” by The New Yorker, “colorful, mercurial, deftly orchestrated” by The New York Times, and displaying “a remarkable gift for sustaining a compelling musical narrative” by Musical America. Julia’s works have been performed across the U.S. and abroad by renowned ensembles and orchestras. Her awards include a 2016 Lincoln Center Emerging Artists Award, a 2016 OPERA America Discovery Grant, and a 2015 Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Julia participated in ACO's EarShot New Music Readings in 2014 at the New York Philharmonic and subsequently won the League of American Orchestras’ Women Composers Commission in 2015, administered by ACO and supported by the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation. Her commission, a new concerto Unearth, Release for viola and orchestra, was premiered by the New York Philharmonic and principal violist Cynthia Phelps on November 17-19, 2016.

Julia is a native New Yorker living in Los Angeles. She was kind enough to answer these questions about her experience.

Composer Julia Adolphe

American Composers Orchestra: What was it like to receive a world premiere at the New York Philharmonic? What surprised you about the rehearsal process? What did you think of the performance?

Julia Adolphe: It was a shocking, humbling, inspiring, and invigorating experience to hear the New York Philharmonic bring to life music that I have lived with intimately. Composing is such a personal, emotional process and to hear your musical dreams realized by one of the greatest orchestras in the world is incredibly surreal. What surprised me the most about the rehearsals and the performances was how relaxed I felt. I knew that I was in the most capable hands and had complete faith in the orchestra, Maestro Jaap Van Zweden, and violist Cynthia Phelps. Even though I worked closely with Cynthia for over a year, she still brought new expressivity and a deeper interpretation to my music with each performance she gave, and that was really special. It was also amazing to hear Van Zweden shape the piece in ways that I found new and exciting. To hear a piece that you know backwards and forwards sound fresh is a great gift. 

ACO: What opportunities and experiences do you think helped lead to such a momentous moment in your career?

JA: I am so grateful to ACO’s annual EarShot New Music Readings, a competition where selected works are read and performed by some of the country’s leading orchestras. I just happened to apply during the cycle where ACO partnered with the New York Philharmonic as part of the inaugural NY Phil Biennial. As one of three winners, I received my first New York Philharmonic premiere in 2014 when Alan Gilbert conducted Dark Sand, Sifting Light. A short viola solo intrigued principal violist Cynthia Phelps and she introduced herself to me following the concert. A few months later, I heard more good news from ACO’s President Michael Geller: the New York Philharmonic and League of American Orchestras, with support from the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation, would co-commission a viola concerto for Cynthia Phelps. 

While the EarShot readings were the most direct opportunity that connected me with the New York Philharmonic, I know that many that other experiences led to this moment. My teachers Steven Stucky and Stephen Hartke inspired and encouraged me constantly and taught me a tremendous amount about orchestration. I also think that the process of writing my chamber opera, Sylvia, which premiered in 2013, gave me experience in writing on a bigger scale with larger forms. I learned to think about my music in terms of an overarching narrative, movement, and drama. All of these techniques are important when writing for the orchestra.

Listen to an excerpt of Julia's Dark Sand, Shifting Light:

ACO: What opportunities and experiences do you think best prepared you for writing this viola concerto and working with the New York Philharmonic?

JA: The greatest preparation came from the New York Philharmonic itself. As early as January 2015, I was working with Cynthia Phelps and studying what makes her sound unique. I asked her many questions, such as: What are your favorite concertos and why? Which concertos do you hate and why? If you could choose any instrument to play a duet with, which would it be? I even asked her what she wanted to express and communicate to her audience through the concerto. Cynthia was amazingly generous and available to me whenever I wanted to hear her play through a passage. Before our first preview concert in May, I had heard Cynthia play through every single note and we discussed fingerings and bowings for the more difficult phrases. I am lucky that Cynthia was honest with me about what passages were challenging because they were virtuosic and required time to master, and which passages were not idiomatic and needed slight adjustments.

Then, there were the preview concerts that the New York Philharmonic so generously arranged. The first preview was in May 2016. Cynthia played through my recently completed concerto with a piano reduction for an audience in Los Angeles. To hear the piece from start to finish and feel the response in the room informed my subsequent revisions. Knowing that the piece was not yet “set in stone” freed my writing and allowed me to experiment with my language. In July, Gerard Schwartz premiered the concerto with the Eastern Music Festival in North Carolina. I made revisions to the orchestration, thinning out textures where the viola was overpowered and adding clarity to some of the tutti lines. More cleaning, more proofreading, and finally, I submitted the final score to Van Zweden in August. There was one last preview concert in October with Don Crockett conducting the USC Thornton Symphony. By the first rehearsal with the New York Philharmonic, all potential questions had been answered and the piece was ready to go! This is why I was so relaxed at the premiere!

ACO: What's next for you?

JA: I am currently writing a twelve-minute work for the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, scored for 20 musicians, to be premiered by Jeffrey Kahane. The commission is part of Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s Sound Investment program, where patrons contribute to a new work and in exchange, gain exposure to the composer’s creative process. Speaking publicly about my music while in the midst of composing the work has proven clarifying, and I was able to hear a few of LACO’s musicians read-through excerpts of my music. I know I will not always have the luxury of hearing my music before the premiere, but I hope it becomes more and more a part of the commissioning process as it leads to incredible growth for both the artist and the composition itself. 

Follow Julia on Facebook and Twitter

Monday, October 24, 2016

Contempo-Scary Music: Q&A with soprano Nancy Allen Lundy

Soprano Nancy Allen Lundy has enjoyed a varied career with an emphasis on contemporary music. Last season, she and pianist, Stephen Gosling, celebrated David Del Tredici’s birthday at Barge Music after her earlier performance of Dracula at Merkin Hall with American Modern Ensemble. A favorite of Tan Dun, she has originated and performed his leading ladies around the world, including Vancouver Opera, Netherlands Opera, NHK (Tokyo), BAM, and Royal Symphony Stockholm. This season she reprises the role of Zina in Raskatov’s A Dog’s Heart directed by Simon McBurney with Netherlands Opera, a role she earlier premiered in Amsterdam with subsequent performances at ENO (London), La Scala (Milan), and Opera de Lyon.

Nancy was kind enough to answer a few questions about her role in the upcoming performance of David Del Tredici's Dracula — a 20-minute setting of Alfred Corn's poem, “My Neighbor, the Distinguished Count,” which retells the famous gothic tale from the point of view of a woman living next door to the Count — at ACO’s 40th Season Opener, “Contempo-Scary Music,” on October 28, 2016 at Carnegie Hall's Zankel Hall. The New York Times has called the piece a “gloriously giddy melodrama.”

Soprano Lundy performed Del Tredici's Dracula
with the American Modern Ensemble in 2014

American Composers Orchestra: Can you talk about your character in David Del Tredici’s Dracula?

Nancy Allen Lundy: I am the neighbor lady of Dracula and have been friends with his parents. Over the years, I imagine we shared dinners, watching as the young boy grew to adulthood. I find myself strangely attracted to this young man whose physical traits are somehow altered from what I remember. He seems to be quite fond of me as well. He pays me “visits”, sending me gifts in the interims. As the narrative progresses, I question why he seems no longer interested in me. Realizing I am indeed hooked, I find my whole life’s meaning is tied to the whims of this odd creature with “an electric tic active at the corner of the mouth”.

ACO: The piece asks for an uncommonly theatrical performance from an orchestra-accompanied soprano. Can you talk about the moments in your role that might surprise (or scare?) an unsuspecting audience member?

NAL: I doubt that anything will be frightening, even for young people. I believe the effect is more comical; an indulgent, hyper-dramatic reading of a person losing her grasp and falling victim to an unusual addiction; the addiction to human blood by which the average, run-of-the-mill vampire is afflicted. And I wouldn’t want to give anything away, now, would I…. [insert scary laugh] ??!!

ACO: In his program note, David says “Nervous giggles and startled gasps would not be unwelcome here,” but he also explains the works deeper meaning: “the listener confronts the more ominous world of addiction, betrayal, and obsession. And inevitably, there comes the ultimate degradation—a Faustian bargain with a devilish price: devolution into the living dead.” Can you talk about the ways in which you try to convey these themes?

NAL: It isn’t in my best interest to try to convey themes or morals. I read the lines and play the scenes and let the audience take what it gleans from it. I feel the ache in my eye teeth as they start to lengthen, I feel the thirst, the hunger for Dracula’s visits, the crushing devastation of a jilted lover. I feel the madness of obsession, the grotesque, itching convulsing as life is leaving and the undead is being born within my flesh.

ACO: You have performed Dracula before with the American Modern Ensemble and last March you celebrated David’s birthday with a recital of his music at Barge Music with pianist Stephen Gosling. Can you talk about your relationship with Del Tredici’s music?

NAL: I have been an admirer of the work of David Del Tredici since I was a music student at college in Northern Minnesota, the same school where Phyllis Bryn-Julson went. Her recording of Alice was there in the library, and I familiarized myself with it in equal measure to Beethoven, Mozart, and all the rest which was unknown to me. It was the greatest treat to meet him finally in his NYC apartment to sing through Dracula. His music mirrors his own thoughtful humanity, flare for the dramatic, aching poignancy and youthful wonder. If I were more of a music theorist, I would say that his music is logically constructed and balanced in symmetry. But my main interest in his music is that it moves me to sing about all that he sees is human, dramatic, poignant and wondrous. And funny, too!

Watch Nancy Allen Lundy's performance of 
Dracula with the American Modern Ensemble:

Hear soprano Nancy Allen Lundy in David Del Tredici's Dracula at Contempo-Scary Music, ACO's 40th Season Opener on October 28, 2016 at Carnegie Hall's Zankel Hall.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Contempo-Scary Music: Composer Spotlight - Paul Moravec

Paul Moravec, recipient of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for Music, is a composer of numerous orchestral, chamber, choral, operatic, and lyric pieces. His music has earned many distinctions, including the Rome Prize Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, three awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Rockefeller Foundation. Paul’s The Overlook Hotel Suite is a brand new orchestral suite that takes musical material from his highly praised opera The Shining, which is based on the well-known Stephen King novel and premiered in a sold-out run by Minnesota Opera this past May. Musical America called the opera a “chilling artistic triumph,” reporting, “This operatic treatment of Stephen King’s breakthrough horror-thriller (1977) manages not only to distill the narrative intensity of the original but—its most significant achievement—transforms The Shining into valid operatic terms that transcend the thriller trappings.” 

Commissioned by ACO, Paul has created a piece that uses the instruments of the orchestra to provide a musical depiction of the Overlook—the infamous hotel at the center of the story’s gory plot. The Overlook Hotel Suite will be premiered at ACO’s 40th Season Opener on October 28, 2016 at Carnegie Hall's Zankel Hall. Paul was kind enough to answer a few questions about the piece and his compositional process for SoundAdvice.

Composer Paul Moravec

American Composers Orchestra: Can you talk about the sections or themes in your opera The Shining that The Overlook Hotel Suite draws from, and your process for choosing this musical material?

Paul Moravec: The Overlook Hotel Suite is more than a medley from the opera: it’s an independent composition re-imagining and re-arranging the opera’s musical material involving the character of the hotel and its ghosts from every part of the show, without regard to dramatic sequence. It’s a kind of time-less fantasy on leitmotifs associated with the never-ending masked ball, ghosts such as Delbert Grady and his two daughters, and Mark Torrance, Jack’s abusive father.

ACO: MPR News writes that your music in The Shining is “a rich, multi-layered soundscape that breathes life into the Overlook Hotel, which is both the setting and the villain of the piece.” In The Overlook Hotel Suite, you are using the instruments of the orchestra to provide a musical depiction of the infamous hotel. Can you give a few examples of what the instruments are depicting? Given that the Overlook might be considered the opera’s “villain,” are you depicting more than just physical setting?

PM: I definitely consider the Overlook Hotel a leading persona in the opera, and so its character and physical attributes are indissolubly one.  For instance, to convey the evil power of the hotel in its most concentrated form, one has to feel the infamous room 217 — where little Danny is attacked by the dead lady in the bathtub — as a real, malicious presence, more than just a physical setting. I use a lot of spooky special effects in the orchestration — such as tremolo ponticello strings and nasty, muted brass — but sometimes the most disquieting effects can be created by a counterintuitively normal-sounding orchestra playing totally creepy music. Sometimes less really is more.

ACO: You have talked about how Stephen King’s 1977 novel The Shining possesses three themes that are essential for creating a compelling opera: love, death and power. Are these themes also present in The Overlook Hotel Suite?

PM: Among other things, King’s novel is a deeply emotional story about love in the Torrance family: between husband and wife and between parents and child. So love itself is not so much a factor in this suite, since it focuses on the ghosts, not the Torrances. As for power, that is reflected principally in the evil force-field surrounding the hotel itself. And as in so many ghost stories, death especially violent death — plays a crucial role in this suite. Regarding the masked gala in the grand ballroom, this suite is more about after-death than death per se.

ACO: Can you talk about the differences in your approach to writing opera compared to orchestral music?

PM: Composing an opera is more complex than writing an orchestra piece, in part because the opera composer must also be the principal dramatist, for all the contributions of the librettist and director and everyone else involved. Opera, of course, is music drama. The challenge is that as an art-form, drama naturally follows its own logic while music follows its own peculiar logic and somehow these two willful, independent thoroughbreds have to be made at all times to move in the exact same direction, in precise synchrony. The composer must combine the music, words, character, plot, et al. into a seemingly effortless and compelling narrative much greater than the sum of its parts. And beyond all that, the composer must overcome the inherent artifice of this irrational art-form so that the audience will be so absorbed as to forget that they are watching an opera.

Hear the world premiere of Paul Moravec’s The Overlook Hotel Suite at Contempo-Scary Music, ACO's 40th Season Opener on October 28, 2016 at Carnegie Hall's Zankel Hall.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Contempo-Scary Music: Composer Spotlight - Judith Shatin

Judith Shatin’s Black Moon was developed through ACO’s coLABoratory program, which allows for the research and development of new works and techniques. Black Moon incorporates conductor-controlled electronics—specific conductor gestures directly trigger and move sounds in space by means of a Kinect controller. Last spring, ACO presented Judith's work-in-progress at coLABoratory, a sketch using the Kinect technology titled Red Moon. The video below shows a clip from Red Moon performed by conductor George Manahan and musicians from the ACO.

ACO premieres Shatin's finished work, Black Moon, at its 40th Season Opener on October 28, 2016 at Carnegie Hall's Zankel Hall in a program titled Contempo-Scary Music, celebrating the Halloween weekend with music inspired by all things sinister and suspenseful. Judith was kind enough to followup on her previous Q&A about the project.

Composer Judith Shatin

American Composers Orchestra: Your piece explores cycles—such as the cycle suggested by four appearances of the moon when only three are expected, giving rise to the ‘black moon.’ How is this manifested in your composition?

Judith Shatin: The underlying structure of the piece is built around the idea of four events when only three are expected. So, for instance, there are three subtly altered repetitions of extended electronic sounds that announce three of the sections, with another that stands out in both its timbres and rhythms. This idea can be found in different aspects of the piece. 

ACO: Can you talk about the roles of the orchestra and conductor-controlled electronics to create these cycles?

JS: The orchestration relates directly to these cycles, with certain instrumental combinations featured in each. Meanwhile the electronics, controlled by the conductor, also change in palpable ways for each cycle.

ACO: All of the electronics in Black Moon, controlled during the performance by conductor George Manahan, are digitally transformed recordings of acoustic instruments. What did you record and how did you alter the recordings? 

JS: I recorded representative string, wind, brass and percussion instruments and then dramatically transformed them using a variety of digital techniques. On the one hand, I wanted to create an organic link between the instruments and electronics, but on the other I also wanted to create a new sonic world that complements that of the orchestra. 

ACO: In a conventional orchestra piece without electronics or any kind of aleatoric writing, the composer would hope the piece would sound pretty much the same from performance to performance. Is this the case in Black Moon, or does inclusion of conductor-controlled electronics mean that the world premiere could sound noticeably different than any other subsequent performance? 

JS: The orchestral part uses a few, limited aleatoric elements, inspired by the shifting, chaotic, elements in nature. However, most of the piece is set, and the electronics will be the same each time. There will be some small changes in their flow when the conductor moves the sound around. However, since I wanted the elements to blend in a certain way, I did not feature random elements. 

ACO: How have things progressed since the coLABoratory workshop last March? 

JS: The coLABoratory was very useful. An orchestra conductor literally has his/her hands full. I realized that having the left arm trigger sounds was too constraining. So, we changed that trigger to a foot switch. The left arm is still used to sweep the sound around, and that is a gesture that is quite natural for a conductor. 

ACO: In our last Q&A we asked if Black Moon would contain thematic elements from Red Moon, the musical sketch you composed to demonstrate your work-to-date. You didn’t know the answer then, but how about now? 

JS: There are very few elements that have remained from the earlier musical sketch. I composed most of Black Moon after the coLABoratory, responding both to that experience and to the evolution of my ideas about the piece.

Learn more about Judith at

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

David Raksin Remembers his Colleagues: Bernard Herrmann

The late/beloved Hollywood composer David Raksin wrote a series of essays about his many esteemed colleagues. In this essay he remembers his friend and colleague Bernard Herrmann.

George Manahan leads the American Composers Orchestra in Bernard Herrmann's iconic Psycho Suite at Contempo-Scary, opening our 40th Anniversary season at Carnigie Hall's Zankel Hall on October 28.

David Raskin, left; Bernard Herrmann, right

David Raksin Remembers his Colleagues: Bernard Herrmann

Of all the composers who have written music for films, perhaps the most remarkable personality was my friend and colleague Bernard Herrmann. He was born in New York City on June 29, 1911 into a middle-class Jewish family. His father, Abraham, had emigrated from Russia; his mother, Ida, was born here. Benny (that's how we all knew him) studied violin when he was in grammar school; by the time he entered high school he had already won a prize-for composing a song. At DeWitt Clinton High, he met another young musician who would also make a name for himself as a composer, Jerome Moross. Herrmann and Moross used to spend time after school at the Half-Price MusicShop on 57th Street, where one day they found some music by a composer previously unknown to them, Charles Ives, who became, as a matter of fact, famous for having been unknown in those days.

The two boys found the Concord Sonata and the 114 Songs and became fascinated by the power and originality of the music. The address of the composer was appended to the printed copies, so Benny wrote him a note in appreciation of his work and, in due time, received an invitation to call upon Ives. Thus began a long friendship in the course of which Herrmann became one of the earliest exponents of Ives's music.

After high school, Herrmann went on to New York University. One of his teachers there was Philip James, a composer and conductor of some renown. Next he won a fellowship at the Juilliard Graduate School of Music, where he studied composition with Bernard Wagenaar and conducting with Albert Stoessel. To support himself during this period he played all kinds of odd jobs, including a stint at the celebrated Yiddish Theatre on Second Avenue.

He also had the good fortune to encounter the Australian pianist and composer Percy Grainger. This brilliant and unconventional musician had an artist's eyes and ears: he could recognize beauty where lesser men saw and heard only everyday commonplaces. So open-minded and perceptive was this gifted man that he saw nothing unfitting about composing, for example, a piece which he called Railroad Station Platform Humlet, and which was intended to divert the weary traveler. I cite this because it seems to me that the influence of such men as Ives and Grainger upon Herrmann is very clear: all through his long career Benny would exhibit the same devotion to his art, the same catholicity of taste which he admired in these two older composers.

In 1930 he founded the New Chamber Orchestra, with which he conducted concerts featuring avant-garde music. He scrounged up the money to finance this ambitious venture from friends, among them Robert Russell Bennett, the noted American composer and orchestrator, and Hans Spialek, also an orchestrator of Broadway shows who sometimes composed for other media. A typical program given at the New School for Social Research includes music by Percy Grainger, Philip James, Henry Cowell, Vladimir Dukelsky (better known as Vernon Duke: 'April in Paris' and 'Autumn in New York' are two of his famous songs), Russell Bennett, Jerry Moross; also Charles Ives, whose Fugue from his Symphony #4 was performed, and Herrmann-his own Prelude to Anathema.

In 1934 Herrmann went to work at the Columbia Broadcasting System's New York radio station, where he composed music for various programs and conducted for the American School of the Air. Within a year he became a member of the conducting staff, and in 1940 he was appointed chief conductor of the CBS Symphony Orchestra, where he acquired his reputation as a champion of rarely performed music. On programs such as Invitation to Music, he presented new works and neglected masterpieces of the past. At a time when the music of Charles Ives had achieved very few performances, Herrmann gave six weeks of radio concerts of his pieces.

While at CBS, Herrmann also composed music for an astonishing number of dramatic programs. He worked with Norman Corwin on the Columbia Workshop and for Orson Welles and John Houseman's Mercury Theatre of the Air. One of our mutual friends--Benny's and mine-the film director Richard Wilson, was a junior member of the Mercury Theatre radio group, and he told me a story which in its madness is typical of the crazy way in which we worked.

Welles was directing a radio dramatization of Agatha Christie's mystery novel, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. The actors and orchestra were together in the studio, while Welles directed from the control room. Dress rehearsals being what they are, this one ended with only minutes to spare before air time and minutes too long, leaving no time for adjusting scripts or cutting music cues. The intrepid Orson advised everyone not to worry, that he would make the necessary cuts while they were on the air! So, while directing the live broadcast, he would from time to time remove pages from his script and drop them on the floor. Dick Wilson would grab them and race out to tell the actors which scenes had been cut-in pantomime because the mikes were live. Then he would pluck pages from Herrmann's script, which left Benny wondering which music cues had been eliminated, and how he would tell the orchestra.

At one point, Wilson picked up a newly discarded page, looked intently at it, and whispered, "Orson!" Welles waved him off, but Dick persisted-with the same result; again Welles waved him off and pointed to the studio. So, having no other choice, Wilson removed the page from all actors' scripts and that of Benny Herrmann. Which made for a most unusual mystery story, because what Dick had been trying to say was that Welles had thrown out the scene in which Ackroyd was murdered. To the radio audience the mystery must have been: what happened to poor Roger.

For all that, Herrmann occupied a position of importance in the Mercury Theatre and in the esteem of Welles and Houseman, so that when they went to Hollywood to film Citizen Kane they invited him to compose and conduct the music. The result was a classic score in which images and music are bonded together in an extraordinary way. When the picture was released, the screenplay by Herman Mankiewicz and Welles, with an assist by Houseman, was thought to be scandalously close to the career of famed publisher, William Randolph Hearst. However, Benny used to say that parts of it were closer to the story of the industrialist Harold McCormick, who financed the construction of the Chicago Opera for the sake of a soprano named Ganna Walska. He also liked to point out that there was a lot of Welles himself in the flamboyant Mr. Kane. What interested me was something else: a prominent figure in the film is Mr. Bernstein, Kane's longtime friend and advisor. To begin with, Welles bestowed upon is character the name of his own guardian, a physician who supervised his care after the untimely death of his father. And as Everett Sloane played him, Mr. Bernstein was a compendium of the mannerisms of-Bernard Herrmann: he looks like Benny, acts like him, and even talks like him-although he is somewhat less raucous than Benny could be when aroused. (When you view CITIZEN KANE, keep an eye on Mr. Bernstein, and you will be seeing the shade of Bernard Herrmann.)

The Aria from Salaambo, an operatic sequence that Herrmann composed for the unhappy debut of Kane's protégé, Susan Alexander, had to expose her as the rank amateur she was unequal to so grand a challenge. So he put the Aria in a key that would force the singer to strain for the high notes. Herrmann said he wanted to convey the impression of "a terrified girl floundering in the quicksand of a powerful orchestra." (The eloquent phrase is Benny's own.) In the film soundtrack, soprano Jean Forward sang the vocal part for Dorothy Comingore. The score that Herrmann composed for Citizen Kane, together with the prestige that the picture achieved in professional Hollywood, established him as an important new voice in film music.

His next score was All That Money Can Buy, the cinema version of Stephen Vincent Benet's book, The Devil and Daniel Webster. The director was William Dieterle. In this mordant and witty fable, the devil, who is called Mr. Scratch (and played, in an inspired bit of casting, by Walter Huston) seems to have been turned loose to terrorize a New England village. An unusual task for the composer was to devise a sound appropriate for the soul of one of Mr. Scratch's victims, who is imprisoned in a matchbox -exactly the kind of challenge that drives film composers to drink (although, in our nearly four decades of friendship I never saw Benny intoxicated.) In any event, he was more than equal to the task, and he won an Academy Award for this score.

Throughout his career Bernard Herrmann continued to voice his resolute, unyielding opinions about music-and just about everything else. I used to describe him as a virtuoso of unspecific anger, which he bestowed so impartially upon friend or enemy that I often wondered whether he knew the difference. He was, it is sad to say, a flawed man, and he paid a greater penalty for his own shortcomings than those who experienced the pain of his rages. Remarkable composer that he was, he was that despite a rudimentary sense of melody, which he sought to remedy by repeating short phrases in sequences—meaning that he would state a brief musical phrase and then repeat it, and repeat it again and again in other positions. One of my students asked me after viewing VERTIGO whether I could identify a fragment played on an organ as Kim Novak walks through a church. I answered that I could not, but that I knew the name of the church: Our Lady of Perpetual Sequences.

Is that a proper remark from a friend and colleague? More important, is it true? I believe it is, but I would not find it possible to issue such an appraisal if I were less aware of his wonderful qualities as a composer of film scores. Think of the values he gave to the movies he enriched with his music. Think what they would have been without Benny's contribution. Think of Citizen Kane, Jane Eyre, All That Money Can Buy, Hangover Square, North By Northwest, The Day The Earth Stood Still, Vertigo; try to imagine Psycho without Herrmann's music for the shower scene, or his evocation of Hell on earth in Taxi Driver, or the beauty and pathos with which he infused The Ghost And Mrs. Muir (my own favorite). Such music does not come from a man whose soul is a litany of harsh cadences. And in fact, this implausible, sometimes even impossible man could also be a loving friend, a sentimental innocent, an endearing companion. In the end it was the humanity of this extraordinary person that spoke in his music, his art, for which he is justly celebrated.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

EarShot ICO Readings & Competition: Composer Spotlight - Reinaldo Moya

Composer Reinaldo Moya’s music has been performed in Germany, Colombia, Brazil, Australia, Argentina, Venezuela and throughout the US by performers such as the New Jersey Symphony, the Juilliard Orchestra, the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, the Da Capo Chamber Players, the Attacca Quartet, Zeitgeist, The St. Olaf Orchestra, as well as musicians from the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Minnesota Orchestra and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, and Alarm Will Sound, among others. He is the recipient of the 2015 McKnight Composers Fellowship, the Van Lier Fellowship from Meet the Composer, and the Aaron Copland Award from the Copland House.

Reinaldo has been commissioned by the Minnesota Opera to write a new opera as part of Minnesota Opera’s initiative Project Opera. An adaptation of Will Weaver’s book Memory Boy, the opera has a libretto by Mark Campbell and was premiered in the spring of 2016. Excerpts from his opera Generalissimo have been performed at Symphony Space, and Weill Recital Hall in Carnegie Hall. He graduated from The Juilliard School with both Master’s and Doctorate degrees, under the tutelage of Samuel Adler and Robert Beaser. Reinaldo is Assistant Professor of Composition at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, and has served on the faculty at St. Olaf, and Macalester colleges in Minnesota.

Reinaldo was selected for the 2016 EarShot Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra Readings & Competition for his piece Passacaglia for Orchestra. He answered these questions for SoundAdvice. 

Composer Reinaldo Moya

The readings are free and open to the public on Friday, September 23, 7PM at the Howard L. Schrott Center for the Arts.

American Composers Orchestra: You are an accomplished composer of opera, with a commission from Minnesota Opera that was premiered last spring and many performances of excerpts from your opera Generalissimo in New York City. Without the ability to directly communicate text or story in an instrumental work for orchestra, what artistic force do you find is lost or gained as a composer?

Reinaldo Moya: I don't necessarily think of it as a loss. I think different kinds of composing offer different possibilities for expression. While I do enjoy having the directness of the word, the sheer power of the orchestra to evoke emotions and paint aural pictures is perhaps unequaled in music. I'm just glad to have the opportunity to do both and go back and forth. I find that this process is beneficial to both my vocal music and my orchestral music. My music with text gets richer after I've worked on something orchestral, and my orchestra music grows as well after I've spent some time setting words to music. It's a wonderful and invigorating process.

ACO: Your Passacaglia for Orchestra uses a bass-ostinato with continuing variations above it. Can you talk about this bass line and the compositional process that brought you to it?

RM: The Passacaglia idea has intrigued me for a long time. It seems so simple, you take something that on its own might not be that remarkable (in the case of my piece a descent from the tonic to the dominant) and layer things on top of it, or around it. Then you see what comes out. It turned out to be harder than I thought but I really enjoyed the challenge.

In the case of this piece, my friend William Harvey, the founder and director of Cultures and Harmony (and a native of Indianapolis), had asked me to write this piece to celebrate 10 years of his organization going around the world and making music together. The idea of viewing the repeating bass line as a metaphor for our common humanity across cultural barriers really spoke to me. Despite all of our differences on the surface, underneath it all, we're all people with a deep desire to get along and lead fulfilling lives. I wish I'd come up with this metaphor myself, because I think it's fantastic, but once I heard it, it really inspired a lot of the piece.

ACO: What was your reaction to finding our your piece had been selected for the 2016 Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra Readings and Competition?

RM: I was actually overseas in Venezuela visiting family when I received the call. So, after I came back to the US and checked my phone, I had all of these voicemails, and when I listened to the one where it said I'd been selected, I had to pinch myself. It seemed kind of surreal. Once I called Greg Evans at ACO back, he confirmed it for me and then I was super thrilled.

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

RM: Writing an orchestral work is a labor of love. It takes many hours of solitary work. After all of that, many of our pieces go unheard. The reasons are diverse, but it usually boils down to resources. Hearing a new orchestral piece live requires a lot of highly skilled people, and those wonderful performers do not come cheap. For me, the biggest reward that I will have this week is getting to share my music with an audience. It will now live outside of my head and be brought into existence by these wonderful musicians. The countless hours of lonely work will hopefully lead to an opportunity to have a shared moment, and I consider myself so lucky to have that opportunity.

Besides that, I'm very excited to get to make some new friends, hear wonderful new pieces, get some ideas, learn about the orchestra and get to work with the mentor composers. I'm so glad that these days here in Indianapolis will bring together so many talented, and generous people in the pursuit of musical beauty, and excellence.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

EarShot ICO Readings & Competition: Composer Spotlight - David A. Jones

Composer and horn player David A. Jones, from Olympia, Washington, is inspired by the music of Stravinsky, Debussy, Hindemith, Holst, and many others. David’s works include music for orchestra, wind band, string quartet, brass quintet, percussion ensemble, choir, and a variety of other ensembles.

David is a recent recipient of the 2015 Barlow Student Composition Award at BYU, won second prize in the 2016 Vera Hinckley Mayhew Composition Contest, and was one of fifteen winners selected in Vox Novus’s “Fifteen Minutes of Fame: Nautilus Brass Quintet” call for scores in 2014. He has had works premiered by the BYU Chamber Orchestra, the Nautilus Brass Quintet, the BYU-Idaho Symphony Band, and the RixStix Percussion Ensemble. He is currently studying for his Master’s in composition at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, where he lives with his wife and child. David graduated with a Bachelor of Musical Arts in Composition at Brigham Young University – Idaho in July 2015, where he studied with Darrell Brown.

David was selected for the 2016 EarShot Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra Readings & Competition for his piece Aspen. He answered these questions for SoundAdvice. 

The readings are free and open to the public on Friday, September 23, 7PM at the Howard L. Schrott Center for the Arts.

Composer David A. Jones

American Composers Orchestra: What was your reaction to finding our your piece had been selected for the 2016 Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra Readings and Competition?

David A. Jones: Honestly, I was quite surprised and amazed that my piece had won a contest of this caliber. I've learned in recent years that a composer really shouldn't enter contests like this expecting to actually win; the sheer number of applicants and the rigorous and subjective selection process involved makes one's chances of winning somewhat akin to winning the lottery. But that knowledge made me all the more thrilled and honored when I was informed that my piece had been selected for the ICO readings. I feel especially humbled after reading the profiles and listening to the music of the other winners; it's an honor to be in the company of such talented and well-established composers.

ACO: You write that your piece seeks to capture the unique quality of aspen trees, which do not grow as individual trees but rather grow as colonies, all connected by their roots. Can you talk about your compositional process and how you went about conveying this idea through music?

DAJ: Aspen began with a few motivic ideas and gestures, or "seeds," which are presented towards the beginning of the piece and which grow and develop and take new shapes throughout the piece. Some of these ideas are developed intentionally and concretely through the written music, but in many instances I've left it up to the performers to develop the gestures freely by means of unmetered, aleatoric sections. By tending carefully to the growth and development of these ideas, I sought to create a piece that is unified in its melodic and harmonic content, but which is allowed to expand and evolve organically.

ACO: What have you done to prepare for the readings since you found out your piece was selected?

DAJ: After I was informed that my piece was selected, I was instructed to send the score and a few of the parts to Bill Holab, a professional engraver, to look over and give suggestions on. His recommendations required a major overhaul of the format of the score and parts to bring them up to professional standards, and the changes took almost an entire week to complete. To my chagrin, even after making all of those changes, I still found a few obnoxious engraving errors in the score and parts after they had all been printed.

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

DAJ: What I'm most looking forward to about the readings is the opportunity to meet and interact with professional performers and composers.  I think this is a wonderful opportunity to form relationships with other musicians and share ideas with them, and to continue to improve my own abilities and develop my career as a composer. I'm grateful for the chance to hear my music realized by a professional ensemble, but as a student composer, I'm especially grateful for the opportunity for my music to break out of the university environment and to be heard in the professional realm.

Learn more about David at