Thursday, November 15, 2012

coLABoratory: Lab 1 - Judith Sainte Croix: After the Lab

I was encouraged by the response of orchestral musicians to the invitation to create timbrel variations on given pitches based on synth sounds. As per Derek's suggestion in the next workshop I will expand on this exploratory process.

Some of the revelations that were especially great for me were...

Gail, countrabass, shared her favorite sound in relation to the synth sound as bowing the tail piece and also placing that sound with the low brass in the orchestration of the opening chord.

Lanny and Sarah, cellists, felt good about the pulsations in one of the synth sounds and liked the addition of  bow pulsations to their string section chordal progression.

Eva, 1st violinist, suggested adding trills and an octave displacement in response to the synth sounds.

Veronica, violist, suggested adding ponti cello to the the viola section bar 1- 18.

I am going to make use of Morton Subotnick's suggestion to work out a way of making these variations through the string section leaders to facilitate the rehearsal process.

Wayne DuMaine, trumpet came up with a trumpet sound that featured 6 tones at once inside an opening chord as per the synth sound and Kyle Turner, tuba immediately suggested dropping his part an octave.

I found it generally hard to hear Andrew Bolotowsky's Native American flute and will put it in front of the orchestra in the next rehearsal and make sure he has a microphone from the beginning of the rehearsal, as well as open up the orchestration surrounding various phrases that he plays.

We got wonderful photos of the musicians playing their instruments and hence inspiration for how the digital images will be created that will backdrop the orchestra during the performance.

Next workshop we will shoot with a flash during set up to avoid flashes during rehearsals. Thanks to all!

coLABoratory: Lab 1 - Troy Herion: After the Lab

For yesterday's workshop I brought in three sketches of music and video, each portraying the first thoughts of what will end up as independent movements of "New York City Symphony." I was hoping to get a sense of how well the audiovisual combinations worked and a general feel for the orchestration. But only seconds after the first downbeat it was apparent that this was information overload. How could I possibly pay attention to so many things at once? My orchestration was full of miscalculations. I couldn't hear the thematic material in the oboe. The percussion was too thick. The strings were buried beneath the brass. Then in a few moments it was done. I don't think I even watched the video. In my semi-bewildered state I looked over to the mentor composers and to my relief, they were right on top of everything. Derek and Morton delivered their gut reactions one at a time. We made some changes and started again. The video was in nearly perfect synch, the orchestra balanced out a bit, and I looked beside me in the audience to see a group of elementary school music students beaming at the projection screen. That brought some relief.

I have loads of feedback to process, not only regarding orchestration but also impressions on the filmmaking. For the next workshop I plan to bring new movements that will sound very different from what I have so far. I also hope to introduce a new level of narrative with some actors and dancers.

coLABoratory: Lab 1 - Ray Lustig: Before the Lab


I'm really excited and grateful that ACO is giving me the chance to indulge a nagging little curiosity of mine.  I've seen some really interesting concerts where musicians have played together with other musicians in faraway places via the internet.  It's always a huge feat of technological wizardry, cutting-edge equipment and software, and enormous expense, and, despite the brilliance of so many who worked so hard, there are often still glitches, mishaps, and outright connection failures, and the musical statement sometimes suffers under the strain of technological limits.

So I wondered what would happen if you just embrace the limits of technology, and even try to make them the most interesting part.  What if instead of using highly specialized cutting-edge technology, you used really basic, but more-or-less-reliable, videoconferencing software like Skype, Google Chat, or Facetime?  Consumer level stuff.  Free, and easy to use.  Yes, there are those unpredictable delays, and mismatches between sound and picture, freezes, and catch-ups, but what if instead of trying to eliminate them, or write music whose texture isn't disrupted too badly by them, one decided to make these mishaps the very thing that makes the work interesting?

My new work for ACO, Latency Canons, uses these unpredictable problems as "canons" (rules).  When we sing in rounds, or canons, there's that time delay between two or more versions of the same music:  "Row, row, row your boat.  Row, row, row your boat." Composers have always enjoyed riffing upon this simple game of making "rules" for musical self-similarity--two or more versions of the same thing set apart by some strict law--the second one follows the first by one measure, or 5 measures; the second is like the first but higher; the second one is upside down, or backwards, etc. etc. etc.--but still sounding good.  Different keys, flipped, flopped, multiplied, stretched, compressed, and so on and so on. So, I decided to use the bi-products of technological limits--unpredictable delays, picture-sound mismatches, freezes, and more--as unpredictable canonic "rules," to make highly unstable canons.  Music that would otherwise be fairly simple, and perhaps even uninteresting, becomes interesting because of the technological limits.  What if you're playing online with musicians uptown who are delayed by 1 second at the same time that musicians in England are delayed by 5 seconds?  And what if those times are constantly changing around?  What if the musicians are trying to follow each other but the visual cues and the sound aren't aligning?  What if an onscreen conductor suddenly freezes on beat 3, but only for some of the players?

For me it's about embracing imperfection, or at least questioning how perfect we really want or need our technology to be.  The mighty supersonic jet Concorde, which once made it possible for the general ticket-buying public to cross the Atlantic in under 3 hours, was once seen as the way of the future. But it went broke. Not enough people needed it badly enough to shell out the huge bucks for the flight. The technology existed, but it was more than we needed or could afford, at least for now.

Could the zero-delay, crystal-clear, perfect internet video connection be an ideal that we might eventually give up on too? Maybe we'll be okay with the delays. For now at least, I am. 

Your guess is as good as mine how this will turn out, but it should be great fun to see what happens.  Will it be soaringly free polyphony, a musical train-wreck, or some gorgeous combination of both? A risky experiment like this is something that would scare off any sane orchestra. So, many, many thanks to the whole fantastic team at ACO for their incredible sense of adventure, unrelenting enthusiasm, and great creative spirit!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

coLABoratory: Lab 1 - Judith Sainte Croix: Before the Lab

 At this first reading of “Vision V” which I’m writing for the April 5th concert of American Composers Orchestra and the Sonora Trio  we will explore balance, timbral meeting points and contrasts between the music of the orchestral musicians and that of the Sonora Trio.
 
The Sonora Trio is Andrew Bolotowsky  on Native American Abenaki flute, the music of which explores ancient wisdom pointing toward essential radiance; Oren Fader on electric guitar whose music divulges the experience of the contemporary individual; and my synthesizer music  seeking to capture an animating life force. The orchestral music forms alliances within and across instrumental family groups articulating the behavior of the fabric of humanity as the composition unrolls its aural story.  
In this reading the synth sounds will be prerecorded to free up my participation. 

Claudia Miranda will be present to photograph the musicians for her digital imagery projections which serve as a metaphors for the energy bodies of the musicians in the process of performing music.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

coLABoratory: Lab 1 - Troy Herion: Hurricane Sandy Video

Come check out composer Troy Herion's composition process on Tuesday November 13 during the first coLABoratory workshop. Troy is looking into what happens when a composer becomes a filmmaker and when the elements of music—phrasing, counterpoint, rhythm, harmony—are made visible. Troy recently did a short video on the effects of Hurricane Sandy to lower Manhattan with this same concept.
Check it out HERE!

coLABoratory: Playing It UNsafe Composers

We are just days away from the first of five FREE and open to the public laboratory workshops as part of the coLABoratory: Playing It Unsafe program, the first and only research and development lab for cutting-edge new American orchestral music encourages composers to do anything but "play it safe." A season-long collaboration will allow composers Du Yun, Troy Herion, Raymond J. Lustig, Judith Sainte Croix, and Dan Visconti, to create new music of no-holds-barred experimentation. The first of five free public lab-workshops is Tuesday, Nov. 13 at Mannes College for Music. The project culminates April 5, 2013 at Zankel Hall. You can read more about the program and make your reservation by clicking HERE. Also check out the coLABoratory video and audio excerpts from each of the composers on the page. To give you a little tast of what these emerging, experimental composers will be doing I wanted to post their short program descriptions. Enjoy! 

Du Yun:  Slow Portraints 
In today’s world, a massive amount of products are digitally altered, our senses are over-loaded, hyper fast, and hence, altered and mutated. For this project, I would like to challenge myself to investigate a frozen point for the orchestral sound, a gradient palette underneath a hyper slow movement.

In summer 2011, I made a sound design for visual artist David Michalek’s “Portraits in Dramatic Time.” It is a video installation that used ultra-high-speed, high-definition cameras to record several well-known theater and film performers in a scene. In other words, the visual sequences were not digitally altered. The project slows the frames to display each emotion in larger-than-life detail as it is projected onto a screen that’s 85 feet wide and 45 feet high. The work was presented as part of Lincoln Center Festival, utilizing the façade of the David H. Koch Theater as a media canvas. 

While the music, mostly as sound design at the time, was broadcast over wifii to the public, I was hoping I could write for an acoustic chamber orchestra to truly investigate the detailed nuance relationship between the acoustic world and the visual processing image, that both are not digitally altered a bit. For the music, I wonder what I could do to showcase a frozen phrase, elongated gestures elongated, without any digital aid.  Like a glacier, things are never quite frozen. Within these constraints, dramatic narratives were condensed down to an essence.

Michalek’s Portraits are 40 shorts, I’m choosing two shorts to write for ACO. Months ago, someone took the Alan Rickman’s short off from David’s website, uploaded on YouTube, without consent. The shots were reached beyond 10, 000 hits over night. The said person took music from the movie Inception and it seems that people loved it. Now things get particularly interesting for me.  I decided to choose that same short again, diffusing the boundaries between to the viral and the real world. The first short featuring the Chinese Kunqu Opera singer, Qian Yi. 

Troy Herion:  New York City Symphony 
What happens when a composer becomes a filmmaker? The elements of music—phrasing, counterpoint, rhythm, harmony—are made visible. 

New York City Symphony is a visual-music film and composition that unites contemporary orchestral music with images of New York’s urban landscape. Inspired by synaesthesia—where one sense becomes intertwined with, even indistinguishable from, another—this composition invites the audience to see sound and hear images.

As composer/filmmaker, Troy composes music with images in ways similar to composing with sound. Colors are organized as chords, shapes move as melodies, and visual dissonances strive for resolution. Compositional ideas travel between orchestra and film in perceptible ways, achieving a larger canvas where music can play out visually, aurally, and sometimes as a new, combinative element. Finding inspiration from early 20th-century city-symphony films, New York City Symphony will treat the living, breathing organism of the city as its subject. Seen through the eyes of a composer/filmmaker, the metropolis is transformed into a multi-sensory musical symphony. 

Raymond J. Lustig:  Latency Cannons
Ray will create a new project that explores the indefinite time-interval and incremental canons that can arise from latency–the slight, and often unpredictable, delay in signal transmission. Though musicians today are certainly using videoconferencing to play ideas for one another, it hasn't yet taken off as a way for musicians living apart to actually play together because of the lingering problem of latency.

For musicians remotely playing together via videoconferencing, and responding to both visual and audio cues, each of which may have its own unstable degree of latency, it would be impossible to stay together. Ray's piece will capitalize on latency, using unpredictable delays experienced through ordinary videoconferencing as its canonic time intervals. The cycle of lateness would be ever-increasing, as each musician tries to play along with the delayed version of what their remote counterpart has played, in an unstable feedback loop.

This will work with parts of the orchestra onstage while other parts are offstage on camera, possibly even in another city, country, etc. and possibly, with a sister ensemble or players in a faraway place. The piece would require two or more laptops (depending on the number of "voices" in the canons) equipped Skype or a similar videoconferencing application, microphones, amplification, and AV projection to an overhead screen that would allow the players and the audience members to view the voices of the canon. 

Judith Sainte Croix: Vision V
Vision V by composer Judith Sainte Croix will integrates three non-orchestral instruments into the orchestra - the populist electric guitar, ancient pre-Columbian flutes and the non-ordinary sound palette of the synthesizer. “Events” containing textural freedom will contrast with moments of rhythmic and contrapuntal precision.

The development of the “events” envisions musicians, conductor and composer as a collaborative community designing musical equivalents for terms like “infinitude” and “joy.” Abstract digital imaging suggesting the auras of the musicians photographed during rehearsal, will play along with the music in the concert. The music will literally extend into the audience in the penultimate moments when concert goers will be invited to participate. 

Vision V is the fifth in a series of compositions by Ms. Sainte Croix that combines traditional classical instruments with indigenous instruments of the Americas. The Sonora Trio  - Andrew Bolotowsky, indigenous flutes of the Americas, Oren Fader  electric guitar and Judith Sainte Croix, synthesizer will perform with the orchestra. The abstract digital images will be derived from photography by Claudia Miranda with design support from Marcelo Mella. 

Dan Visconti:  Glitchscape
My new work in collaboration with experimental filmmaker Simon Tarr will blend instruments of the orchestra with sounds from obsolete analog technology. My earlier compositions have been inspired by the artifacts of sound production, but this new work for the American Composers Orchestra will explore the interaction of live acoustic instruments and technology on a much larger scale, featuring parts designed to be performed on modified vintage Speak & Spell and Speak & Read toys and an old 50's "noisebox" that will integrate with traditional orchestral parts and video. The piece will explore the audio/visual interactions of these electronic devices with extended orchestral techniques informed by the same affectingly crude electronic timbres.

The composition will employ a visual element allowing me to express ideas in a new way leading me to new sonic landscapes. The new work will create a unique texture through reimaging familiar, nearly-forgotten sounds: an exploration of the expressive power of obsolescence.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute Day 5 - Michael Dessen

Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute - Day 5
by Michael Dessen

This morning George Lewis gave a class on "electronics and the orchestra." It was partly his own theorizing about our relationship to technology in broad terms, and partly a discussion of process-oriented techniques involving interactivity, spectral tools, and other topics far less familiar to JCOI participants than other technologies he didn't cover such as DAWs, synthesizers, and notation software. It was really useful to open up the imagination and get everyone thinking about future possibilities, even if these are techniques that none of us will be able to implement anytime soon given practical constraints. One point he made was that there are fairly few recordings of orchestral pieces involving electronics, something I imagine will change gradually, but still struck me as odd given how long electronic music has been around and how central it is to musical life today. I suppose this just goes to show how successfully the orchestra as an ensemble insulated itself from change in the 20th century, even if composers did develop all kinds of new compositional strategies in writing for it.

After George's talk was a presentation on engraving and copying by one of the librarians from the LA Philharmonic, Stephen Biagini. He gave a helpful rundown of all kinds of practical information about how to prepare scores and parts for orchestra, as well as common errors and examples of what not to do - the funniest example being a flute part in which the instrument name was appended to the title of a song called How Deep Is Your Love. His detailed advice on how to prepare parts properly was very serious, though, given the time pressures that you're under in rehearsals with any professional orchestra. He pointed out that by his rough calculation, the cost of rehearsing with the LA Phil is about $300 per minute.

James Newton gave the final presentation after lunch, and I was moved by the fact that James said he had to completely rework his presentation after talking to everyone during the week, since that gave him a better sense of what needed to be addressed. James is an incredibly dedicated teacher, and it really comes through in his presentation style as well as the content. His presentation included not only some good practical advice about how to get started writing for orchestra, but also reflections on a wide range of artists that have been important, personal touchstones for him in his own search to discover his voice as a composer. These included spirituals and Hendrix as well as Mingus, Ellington, Mahler, Ravel, Lutoslawski, Ornette Coleman and several others. One point he made that intrigued me had to do with Ravel's relationship to jazz. It's well known that Ravel was influenced by early jazz, but like many others, I had always thought that Ravel's exposure to actual jazz music was fairly superficial. James cited the book Ravel Studies which apparently details how Ravel studied early jazz deeply through private instruction with a jazz trombonist. James also made an interesting claim that most performances of Ravel's music - specifically the Piano Concerto in G Major - have not adequately captured the spirit of this connection. As with so many of the faculty presentations this week, this left me with several topics that I'm curious to explore more in the future.

ACO executive director Michael Geller offered an great, impromptu session on commissioning during our lunch break, full of information that will (hopefully!) be useful to us someday. The final session included a run-down of phase two of this JCOI project, in which all of us - and previous JCOI participants - are invited to apply for the opportunity to have a work read next spring/summer in four intensive sessions that they're now organizing. Although it will be competitive to get accepted, everyone I spoke to was very grateful for the potential opportunity to take forward all the experiences we had this week and put them into practice.

The week ended with a superb concert by wild Up featuring works by all the faculty composers as well as several others. The performers did an amazing job of capturing all the different aesthetic worlds that were represented on the very diverse program. They all seemed to really enjoy themselves and projected a great vibe, like a tight band. They also brought out a large and enthusiastic crowd, which is not easy to do in LA for contemporary chamber music. They're in residence right now at the Hammer Museum so if you're in LA, check them out in the coming months there. For anyone new to contemporary classical music, I can't think of a better way in. Many thanks to Chris Rountree and all the wild Up musicians, many of whom also gave us excellent instrument classes during the week.

I also want to express my deep gratitude to the ACO, especially Michael Geller and Greg Evans who were on the ground organizing constantly all week; to the faculty artists, who not only taught great classes but participated in one another's sessions throughout the whole week, creating a great feeling of community; and to all the other participants, almost all of whom had to travel a lot farther than me to get here, and made this such a friendly and exciting event. It's just a start, but a powerful one, and I look forward to seeing what will emerge from all the possibilities that the past week has set into motion. Many thanks!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute Day 4 - Samantha Boshnack

Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute - Day 4
by Samantha Boshnack
Another incredible day here at JCOI, our next to last day – I can’t believe it.  Today George Lewis gave a fascinating lecture on “New Approaches to Form”.  It covered a ton of information and we listened to many different composers. When thinking about form we examined modern music that did not think of musical progression in the standard way. In John Zorn’s “File-card compositions”, he would write down a description of what he wanted on file-cards and arrange them to form the piece.  This was an example where each moment of the piece is individual – it doesn’t need to come directly from what is before or lead into what is after. 

Next came an incredible panel discussion with three conductors - wild Up’s Chris Rountree, La Jolla Symphony’s Steven Schick, and Pacific Symphony’s Carl St. Clair.  I thought a great description of the conductor was the “membrane between idea and execution”.  I recently had my first experience of working with a conductor on my music and couldn’t believe how important and transformative this membrane is.  In the orchestra world there is an incredible amount of pressure on conductors.  They are responsible for the time management of a large amount of musicians, dealing with the dwindling finances that orchestras are facing, programming series that will sell tickets, not to mention the composer.  The conductor manages time and fear.  Everyone wants to deliver a great performance; there is always a fear of failure and a short amount of rehearsal time.  The conductor has to create a feeling of confidence amongst the musicians, allowing the time to be used more effectively.

We have been speaking about classical musician’s fear of improvising; which is hard to understand amongst jazz musicians.  The conductors agreed that classical musicians needed to adapt and be more versatile, and that this may help to save the dying orchestra.  There was talk that the curriculum needed to change in the music conservatories to produce musicians with a broader skill set.  I wondered to myself if the change in musical education should begin with even younger students.  Let more kids use music as a tool to find their own individual voice in addition to a regimental and disciplined practice – maybe it would create greater music appreciation across the board, producing bigger audiences and a more creative society.     
   
Steven Schick told an amazing story of playing a new composition in his orchestra.  Sometimes there is a fear that audiences won’t like newer music that is more atonal and complicated then say Haydn or Vivaldi.  He made the experience personal to the audience by telling them and the orchestra that he liked the piece, rather than holding the composer at an arm’s length.  In the end the piece was a success.  I have often thought that we underestimate audiences.  If you are friendly to them they are more likely to listen closely and find things they like about the music, even if they don’t fully understand what is happening.  “Play difficult music for them as if it’s not difficult”, Rountree said.  

Carl St. Clair painted a friendly and inspired vision of the orchestra as many people pooling together to bring new works to their fullest potential.  “A lot get’s done if there’s no credit.”  Musicians and the conductors “pool together” musical ideas to create better music then what the composer wrote.

I loved when one of the conductors said how musicians learn more about Beethoven and Mozart from creating a new piece of music then by continuing to play those composers.  They learn how to create a new piece – which is exactly what Beethoven and Mozart were doing.   

A common theme today was how important it is for music to be continually adapting and changing from what came before.  Derek Bermel spoke of his many influences and said, “If you limit your intake, the genre becomes stagnant.”  George Lewis quoted, “Your history is going to come into your music if you let it.”  As American composers one is exposed to a multitude of cultures, which can be a great resource and create music that is unlike anywhere else.  All genres have room to move somewhere new.  This may sound jaded, but it seems that all music with integrity is really struggling in today’s corporate-run America, maybe because exercising one’s mind doesn’t help to sell product.  It has been thought provoking to be at this institute with great minds from two genres that are maybe struggling the most – jazz and classical.  Hopefully this “pooling together” between us all, as if we ourselves were an orchestra, will create solutions or at least inspiration for this incredible group of American composers.  

Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute Day 4 - Michael Dessen

Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute - Day 4
by Michael Dessen

Today was once again packed with energizing conversations and presentations. 
We had an instrumental session on piano and harp in the morning, including a 
terrific whirlwind demo of many pages of harp technique notations by Anne
LeBaron. She vowed to make us all want to compose for harp by showing the 
wide range of sounds that can be achieved through conventionally-accepted
notations, in addition to demonstrating the fascinating, personal techniques
 she uses in her own music.

 Following that was George Lewis' seminar on new approaches to form, a dense 
overview of this topic with examples from western music spanning the 20th 
century. On One level, George was introducing general trends he sees in
 20th-century composers' explorations in new forms, including "depiction,"
 "indeterminacy/open forms," "repetition" and "noise." But as with any of
 George's talks (my post yesterday included a disclaimer that I studied with 
him closely for years), there were layers within layers of provocative 
questions. One of these was his constant weaving together of examples from
 European and African American music in order to reveal resonances among 
formal innovations in these traditions. In addition, he framed the 
presentation by arguing that the dominant discourses of form in common
practice western art music - especially notions like "coherence," "logic,"
and "continuity" - should not be accepted at face value, but are instead 
"fraught" in profound ways and can often serve as "ideologies and moral
precepts." If you're familiar with George's scholarship, you know that such 
comments are the tip of an iceberg of cultural critique and historiographic 
intervention, but he also spoke to us more directly as composers when he
 brought up the fact that each piece we create involves a choice as to whether or not to use "received forms." He emphasized that rejecting
 received forms forces you to confront the amorphous and difficult question
 of how to deal with form, and to examine the relationship between your forms
 and materials.




Even though everyone here at JCOI is super polite and respectful, this is a 
topic bound to strike some nerves, since it's hard not to sense at least a 
whiff of value judgment in this formulation. One of my favorite moments so
 far in the symposium was in the discussion session after George's talk, when one of the younger participants asked if George thought that it is still possible to find room for innovation within traditional ("received") formal
 approaches. I started thinking that this question can only be approached by 
doubling back on the question itself and asking what we mean by "innovation"
 to begin with, in a potentially endless loop of deconstruction, but at the
 same time I was also thinking about my empty stomach like everyone else in
the room, as we were already very late for lunch and this was the last
 question before the break. George improvised a quick solution, if not a
 resolution: "For now, I'll just say this: Yes and no."



Later in the day, Anthony Davis discussed his recent opera Wakonda's Dream,
which I don't have time to cover here, but was another wide-ranging view
 into Anthony's long relationship with operatic writing, building on his 
presentation of Amistad that I discussed in yesterday's post. Derek Bermel 
then gave a presentation on his  music and background that was very 
inspiring and helpful for me, and tackled some of the same questions George 
raised about form but through a different lens. Among other works, Derek 
played an excerpt from a concerto for clarinet that he wrote for himself to
 perform with the ACO years ago, one of his first major commissions. He
 explained that when he wrote it, he had been deeply immersed in listening to
 "What Love" performed by Charles Mingus and Eric Dolphy on a live recording
 at Antibes (1960), and that he was fascinated with the musical conversation 
between the two, the sense of characters personified through sound. He
 recalled that he tried to capture something of the spirit of that music in
 the concerto, but was worried at the first rehearsal that the orchestra 
wouldn't be able to play his piece, since the parts involved new kinds of 
performance techniques. The conductor urged him to simply start out by 
playing his own part, rather than try to explain the techniques first, and 
Derek said that once the orchestra heard how he begin to play, they simply
 got it and everything worked. This story struck me in connection to the 
questions about new performance practices and orchestral culture that I mentioned in yesterday's post. At least in the context of that specific 
piece, it seems like Derek found a solution that allowed him to bring
 something powerful to the orchestra that was formed through his own
 relationship with improvisatory music.



He also spoke at length being immersed in hip hop and other forms of black
 music as a white kid growing up in a predominantly black neighborhood in New
 Rochelle during the 1970s and 80s. He mentioned being especially influenced
by Eric B. and Rakim's albums when they were first coming out in the late
 1980s, and I loved hearing that in this context because I share a deep 
respect for Eric B. and Rakim's albums from that time, even though I'm not
 very knowledgeable about hip hop. As Derek talked about what this music
 meant to him, I was impressed by how well he navigated this tricky subject.
 He didn't over simplify the questions around race that it brought up, but he
 didn't exploit them in a shallow way either. He discussed formal aspects of
 the music and his explorations into analyzing it, rather than just making
 vague references to hip hop in order to color his profile as a composer.
 He's written about these and other topics in online essays found here, and this talk intrigued me to check out his writing more in the
 future.



Another intense panel today included three conductors, Carl St. Clair, Steve 
Shick and Christopher Rountree. In addition to some useful information about
 the mechanics of dealing with orchestras (how much advance time do they need
 to get bowing markings into the parts? how should you interact with a 
conductor during rehearsals? how big should the score be?), the panel also
 moved eventually into some rich questions around improvisation and the
 potential for transforming the orchestra and moving away from the assumption 
that every orchestra has to be modeled on the great institutions of the
 past. Carl St. Clair described his vision for leading the Pacific Symphony to
 be "the new orchestra of the 21st century," and he and Steve Shick, as 
orchestral conductors, passionately encouraged us to be part of that larger
 process of change, echoing the comments Derek Bermel made about orchestral 
evolution in the opening session that I reported in my first post. Steve 
made a great point that the best mind set for us to bring to our interactions 
with an orchestra is to think of them like a big group of fellow musicians.
 It seems simple when I put it this way, but Steve captured this idea
 brilliantly in the conversation. But it was also refreshing to hear Carl St.
 Clair's brutal honesty on the pressures and challenges facing even a
 conductor such as himself who is already committed to championing new music.
 His jaw nearly hit the floor when Christopher Rountree reported that for 
tomorrow night's closing concert of chamber music, they had 25 hours of 
rehearsal, exponentially more than the PSO ever has for any single concert.
 And Carl also gave some powerful insight into how the current paradigm of
 orchestral programming is shaped at a fundamental level by marketing. For
 example, he explained that his programming decisions have to take into
 account the "data" he's given on the ticket sales that will be generated by
 a choice to program Beethoven's 5th compared with the 4th, and he commented
 that he can't program as much new music during the weeks when they are
 marketing season ticket renewals. For all this darkness, though, there was
 still plenty of enthusiasm and a feeling among everyone in the discussion 
that such circumstances make it all the more urgent that we work together
 now to envision new directions for the orchestra of the future. Citing the 
statistic that the average age of the season ticket holder is 65, Carl 
eloquently connected JCOI's aims to the economic crisis facing the orchestra
 today, stating that the orchestra "must find new relevance, and that new 
relevance is going to be a new identity."