Thursday, November 20, 2014

Orchestra Underground: Monk's Sphere Composer Spotlight – Loren Loiacono

Loren Loiacono, a young composer of extraordinary talent, synthesizes her childhood experience playing with Barbie’s Dream House and her later discovery of Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloe in the NYC premiere of Stalks, Hounds at Orchestra Underground: Monk's Sphere on November 21 at Zankel Hall, Carnegie Hall. Loren was kind enough to answer a few questions about the creative process behind Stalks, Hounds.

Composer Loren Loiacono

American Composers Orchestra: What was the inspiration for your composition?  Can you tell us about your creative process for this piece?

Loren Loiacono: As goofy as it may sound, the inspiration for Stalks, Hounds was a computer game I played as a kid, where whenever you clicked on various things, it would be accompanied by this harp-flourish sound effect.  Years later, as a teenager, I heard Maurice Ravel's Daphnis et Chloe for the first time, and was stunned to realize that the harp "sound effect" was, verbatim, taken from a gesture in that piece.  It struck me as odd how that particular phrase had been completely isolated from its original musical context, and had been turned into something completely, for lack of a better word, inane.  (I think I'm probably not alone in this experience – there is plenty of music that I heard as part of cartoons or games re-contextualized as used for a different purpose.)  In particular, I wanted to explore the idea of that gesture, not as an organic part of its original musical whole, but as a stock sound, that could be summoned with a click.

ACO: Are any of the musical gestures you decontextualize in this piece borrowed from anything a listener could recognize?

LL: The most obvious gesture is the Daphnis quote. The opening of the piece very closely replicates the experience I had of that flourish accompanying every computer click (including, if one were to click too quickly, the gesture becoming truncated).  Other than that, the materials I used were all very simple, even cliche (descending scales, circle of fifth harmonic progressions, etc.), but used in a way in which things are slightly askew.

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

LL: Everything! Hearing an orchestra play your music is always an exhilarating experience to begin with, but this time is particularly exciting.  What I'm most excited about, though, is to hear how ACO is going to interpret the piece.  The piece has only been played by one orchestra (it was premiered by the Yale Philharmonia in 2011), and so for the last couple of years, the way I think about the piece has been completely tied up with how they played it.  This piece is particularly close to my heart, as well, so hearing another orchestra play the piece, and particularly one as well-attuned to the nuances of contemporary music as ACO, will be like discovering a whole new side of Stalks, Hounds.

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

LL: I'd say the best things to listen for are how each of the gestures introduced is derailed: the harp flourishes that keep getting overtaken by strings and percussion, the descending scales that get stuck on the way down, and, most notably, the piano/vibraphone groove that can't quite seem to find its footing.



Follow Loren on FacebookTwitter

www.lorenloiacono.com
www.americancomposers.org

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Orchestra Underground: Monk's Sphere Composer Spotlight – Meredith Monk

Meredith Monk, 2014-2015 Richard and Barbara Debs Composer’s Chair holder at Carnegie Hall, is a composer, singer, and creator of new opera and music-theater works. A pioneer in extended vocal technique, Monk has been called "at once fearless, unique, [and] uncompromising" by The Washington Post and "one of contemporary music's great innovators" by The Classical Review. Monk kindly shared with us the creative process behind Night, a rare orchestral work which will be performed at ACO's Orchestra Underground: Monk's Sphere on November 21 at Zankel Hall, Carnegie Hall.

Meredith Monk

American Composers Orchestra: What was the inspiration for your original composition, Night, for ten voices, two keyboards, violin and French horn? Can you tell us about your creative process for this piece?

Meredith Monk: My daily practice is working at the piano. Sometimes I like to explore different scales. One day in the early ‘90s I started playing with one that turned out to be a Hungarian minor scale, and I began developing material inspired by the particular dissonance inherent in those sounds.

At that time, the former Yugoslavia was in the midst of a bloody war. I had been on tour there a few years before and was struck by the natural beauty of the region in contrast to what was now going on. At the same time I began thinking about suffering in the broader sense.

As with most of my work, I begin from an intuitive place and try to access something both timeless and contemporary. Night was one of those works that came to me as a full fabric. While I think of it as an elegy, it also evokes the sturdiness and resilience of life.

ACO: What prompted you to re-orchestrate Night for a larger ensemble? Can you talk about any of the specific choices you made in selecting the new instrumentation?

MM: I think of myself primarily as a vocal composer and have always thought of the voice as an instrument. As the years go on, I have become more and more interested in the idea of instruments as voices, and in combining voices and instruments to find new sounds. I recognized that for Night to have its full power, it needed the richer colors and textures of an orchestra. Using unusual instruments such as shakuhachi, bowed psaltry and harp played with a guitar pick allowed me to explore new timbres and to think of the group of instrumentalists as somewhere between an orchestra and a band.

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

MM: I’m hopeful that people will engage with it on different levels. I try to create an open space for each member of the audience to experience the work in his or her own way, affirming the power and uniqueness of each person’s imagination.



Follow Meredith on FacebookTwitter, YouTube

www.meredithmonk.org
www.americancomposers.org

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Orchestra Underground: Monk's Sphere Composer Spotlight – A.J. McCaffrey

Motormouth, a world premiere by rising-star composer and ACO’s 2013 Underwood Commission winner A.J. McCaffrey, will be performed at Orchestra Underground: Monk's Sphere on November 21 at Zankel Hall, Carnegie Hall. A.J. has kindly shared with us the personal story that has inspired his work and some of the strategies he used in the writing process.

Composer A.J. McCaffrey

American Composers Orchestra: What was the inspiration for Motormouth? Can you tell us about your creative process for this piece? 

A.J. McCaffrey: Just around the time that the ACO commissioned me to write this piece, my then-four-year-old son began telling jokes. He would start off by telling the jokes the way he had heard them. Then, excited and emboldened by the laughter they generated, he would look for ways to make the jokes bigger and better, repeating them over and over and adding his own variations. The jokes would become these manic, absurdist, free-association epics, with tigers and fire hydrants invading jokes about astronauts (and vice-versa). I’m a sucker for this type of humor, and I would egg him on during car rides, passing mutations on various knock-knock jokes back-and-forth with him until the punch lines were as far away from the set-ups as possible and we were both laughing our heads off.

When I sat down to compose, I very much wanted to convey this hyperactive, overjoyed (and exhausting) energy in the music I was writing. I saw this piece as an opportunity to write “about” or “for” my son, although I also recognized that this was not the first time that I had been drawn to this type of playfulness with language and momentum. I love taking rhetorical musical devices (like certain phrases or melodies) and ratcheting up their intensity until the frenetic emotional state of the music seems completely at odds with its grammar or logic. I feel that there is similarly mischievous, slapstick, or satirical quality to the music of some of my favorite composers, like György Ligeti and Gerald Barry, and I often find myself paying homage to them in my own works. In Motormouth, a few melodic lines are taken through a myriad array of moods and levels of activities – from giddy to frustrated, from manic to calm – that one might experience in a typical day as the parent of young children.

ACO: You say that Motormouth is inspired by your experiences as a new father. Can you describe any specific moments with your child that have found their way into the piece?

AM: The first image I began composing with was that of “coloring outside the lines.” I tried to convey this concept through a melody in which the intervals kept getting farther apart, like widening scribbles, but I was unhappy with the actual sound of it. I kept paring the melody down until it was just a rising and falling major third (which is heard all throughout the piece). It was my wife who pointed out that this sounded exactly like a fire truck siren, or at least a boy’s imitation of a fire truck siren – one that will be very familiar to anyone who has visited our house in the last two years.

Perhaps more consciously, there is a section about nine minutes into the piece in which I most overtly tried to channel my son’s joke-telling: a repeated series of herky-jerky, falling-down-the-stairs melodies that are routinely punctuated by what I thought of as two loud “ta-DA!” chords.

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

AM: Given the level of skill, talent and devotion to new music exhibited by Maestro Manahan and the ACO, and the history and prestige of the venue, it is extremely difficult for me to narrow down what I’m looking forward to. I am absolutely thrilled and honored to be part of this concert.

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

AM: Although I think it can be helpful for an audience to hear how composers approach their own works, I never want to impose my own agenda on someone else’s listening experience. When writing, I try to make sure that the concept never overwhelms the music, and I hope listeners can enjoy the sounds for their own sake without feeling beholden to any particular narrative.



Follow A.J. on Facebook, Twitter

www.ajmccaffrey.com
www.americancomposers.org

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Orchestra Underground: Monk's Sphere Composer Spotlight – Theo Bleckmann

Composer Theo Bleckmann's My Brightest Garment will have its world premiere at American Composers Orchestra's Orchestra Underground: Monk's Sphere concert on November 21 at Zankel Hall, Carnegie Hall. Theo has kindly shared with us the personal story that has inspired his work and some of the strategies he used in the writing process.

Vocalist and Composer Theo Bleckmann

American Composers Orchestra: What was the inspiration for My Brightest Garment? Can you tell us about your creative process for this piece? 

Theo Bleckmann: The inspiration behind this piece was the recent death of two close friends. The idea that we exist one day and are completely gone the next really hit me hard. Whatever one believes in, the mere fact of dying on earth suddenly seemed like a magic trick to me. How could we be so present and real one moment, and irrevocably gone the next? I found there to be a strange beauty. I wanted to write an exuberant piece of celebration, not a dirge.

The piece started out with a 5-bar, repeated harp-and-piano counterpoint sketch, that very quickly evolved into a full form with some orchestration. The real work began then: I amended, changed, tweaked, switched, refined, obsessed, went back, filled in for months and months, a seemingly infinite process. I wanted to have something that was static while shifting colors, sometimes abruptly, sometimes with a sleight of hand.

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

TB: This is my first commission for large orchestra, so I had to really familiarize myself with instruments I had never written for before. Some of them came easier to me, like the tuba e.g., others I had to research quite extensively and really figure out what is feasible and what is too ambitious. Composer and orchestrator Kirk Nurock was very helpful in this process, as I went to take lessons with him, especially for this piece. I also talked to friends who are virtuosos on their instruments. I consulted with them about all kinds of details and asked them to play sections for me to hear - it was very tempting to write endless extended techniques, especially considering the high caliber of players in ACO, but somehow the piece wanted to be much simpler and less oblique - more like a dance - so I followed that.

ACO: You describe My Brightest Garment as “an orchestral song about death as a vanishing act, a magic trick of sorts; pondering the ‘now you see it - now you don’t’ aspect, while wearing the most beautiful, brightest garment to pull it off.” How will your use of live electronic processing help achieve this concept in your piece?

TB: The live electronic looping I do is very simple and direct, technically speaking. There is no laptop or hidden hardware anywhere. I push a button, sing into the machines and out comes the music. I want there to be very little worry in the listener’s mind as to what is going on. I want them to see and hear that what is being created is happening right now and that it is not pre-recorded or hidden from them behind a screen. 

When we die, not much is left of us except for the people we affected and the things we owned or made. I came to realize that audio recordings are an eerie residue of a person’s soul. With the live looping I’ll be doing, I am capturing the now to be re-lived later, which is very much like looking at a photo of someone you lost.

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

TB: There is no homework or checklist for this piece. I hope for the listener to enjoy it and relax into the music, be surrounded and immersed by the sounds and words.



Follow Theo on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube

www.theobleckman.com
www.americancomposers.org

Thursday, June 5, 2014

23rd Annual Underwood New Music Readings: Composer Spotlight - Wang A-Mao

SoundAdvice sits down with Wang A-Mao, one of the composers selected to participate in ACO's 23rd Annual Underwood New Music Readings on June 6 and 7, part of this year's inaugural NY PHIL BIENNIAL celebration.  Her piece, Character in Theatre, is intended to inspire the audience to create their own art.


American Composers Orchestra: What was the inspiration for your piece that will be read by ACO at the Underwood New Music Readings?  How has that been incorporated into the work?

Wang A-Mao: The inspiration of Character in Theatre came from Beijing Opera. When I was in the middle school of the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, one of the main requirements was to sing some important Beijing Opera repertoire, because it is an important component of the Chinese culture. That is why this piece is also a deep homage to my roots.

I like composing music with dramatic images, and Beijing Opera is a great source of inspiration for music characters, rhythmic ideas, pitch materials, and so on. To convey this dramatic music style, I believe that orchestra is the perfect medium: the vast choice of instruments, the various sonorities, and the colorful sounds were all great sources of inspiration for my piece. I also combined some western compositional techniques that I have learned through all these years, which helped me to develop this work more systematically and organically.

ACO: What were your first thoughts when you were chosen to participate in these Readings, which are part of the inaugural NY PHIL BIENNIAL?

WA: Actually it was a totally unexpected surprise for me to be chosen. When Mr. Michael Geller, the president of ACO, called to tell me this good news, I almost fell off my chair. I thought it was a prank call! The only words I remember I was able to say when I was talking to Mr. Geller were something like: “wow…thank you…I don’t know what to say… thank you… thank you very much…”

ACO: During the Readings your work will be workshopped with George Manahan, mentor composers, and ACO musicians. What do you hope to gain from this experience?

WA: I hope not only to improve myself to be a better composer, but also to have the chance to work with those renowned composers, conductor, and great musicians, and be able to actually hear how this work sounds like. It is always difficult to find a professional orchestra to play our works, as this kind of pieces requires many people involved together. ACO gives young composers a fantastic opportunity to get our works performed, also it offers us an amazing stage to let people listen to our music and let us get in contact with each other. Maybe, through this experience, we could influence each other, and find new sources of inspiration.

ACO: Is there anything you'd like the audience to know about your piece in advance? Anything you hope they take away from hearing it?

WA: Beijing Opera is a form of traditional Chinese theatre, which combines singing, reciting, performing, acrobatics, and instrumental accompanying, along with rich face make-up, costumes, and stage setting.

The majestic role is a male role, called “Jing”, who has a richly painted face. Depending on the repertoire of the troupe, he will play either primary or secondary roles. This type of role will entail a forceful character, so a Jing must have a strong voice and be able to exaggerate gestures.

The delicate female role is called “Dan”, and it can be divided into five categories: old women (laodan), martial women (wudan), young female warriors (daomadan), virtuous and elite women (qingyi), and beautiful maiden (huadan). I tried to present elegance and agility of the female role to contrast the strong and powerful male character.



Tuesday, June 3, 2014

23rd Annual Underwood New Music Readings: Composer Spotlight - Robert Honstein

SoundAdvice sits down with Robert Honstein, one of the composers selected to participate in ACO's 23rd Annual Underwood New Music Readings on June 6 and 7, part of this year's inaugural NY PHIL BIENNIAL celebration.  His piece, Rise, is intended to inspire the audience to create their own art.


American Composers Orchestra: What was the inspiration for your piece that will be read by ACO at the Underwood New Music Readings?  How has that been incorporated into the work?

Robert Honstein: I was thinking about the idea of the pastoral, particularly the symphonic tradition of representing nature. It's a pretty old tradition that had a real flowering (pardon the pun) in the 19th century. You've got Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and Berlioz, for example, writing orchestra music that expressed a distinctly romantic idea of nature. I love that music but feel like this way of representing nature isn't quite suited for the 21st century. We're still moved by the outdoors, of course, but it's complicated these days. What does it mean to romanticize nature in the post-industrial, climate-changing 21st century? Perhaps this explains the somewhat haunting mood of my piece, Rise. There is a celebration of the natural world, but also an unsettled feeling that never resolves.

ACO: What were your first thoughts when you were chosen to participate in these Readings, which are part of the inaugural NY PHIL BIENNIAL?

RH: 1) Oh $&*!, time to make some parts.
2) Yay!!! How cool that I'll be able to hear my piece for real!
3) Time to order some nice paper. Am I out of toner?
4) What an honor to be selected. I can't wait to hear the other pieces.
5) This Biennal thing is awesome and I'm really excited the NY Phil is putting so much energy into celebrating new music! I hope I can catch some of the other concerts while I'm in town!
6) &%#* it, have to make those parts now.

(Thoughts basically in that order)

ACO: Since you were selected, have you further developed your piece? How have you been preparing yourself and your work for the Readings?

RH: I've made very minor changes, primarily with an eye towards clarifying notation and making sure everything is playable. I use a bunch of extended techniques in the strings and I wanted to make extra sure my notation clearly explained how to execute them. I know there will be very limited time at the readings so I'd hate to spend it all discussing the finer points of bowing a tailpiece.

For myself, I'm just trying to learn my piece really well. It seems like I should know it because I wrote it, right? But actually, those two things don't always go hand in hand. I sometimes feel like I use a totally different part of my brain writing a piece as opposed to performing a piece. I want to know my music well from a performing perspective so I can anticipate any potential hurdles and be ready to deal with rehearsal issues as quickly and effectively as possible.

I'm also trying to figure out the best way to talk about the piece. I'm sure this is different for other composers, but I find that while writing I rarely know what it is I'm actually doing. That sounds bad, but what I mean is that I'm living in a non-verbal music space where most of the work involves figuring out abstract things like sound and structure. Of course I have some idea what the piece is "doing" or what it's "about" but I'm not really focusing on that and I'm definitely not having coherent conversations with other people about it. This means that after the works is finished it's actually a real thing for me to figure out how to articulate what the hell is going on in my music. So yeah, I'm trying to get better at having that conversation in an articulate and engaging way.

ACO: During the Readings your work will be workshopped with George Manahan, mentor composers, and ACO musicians. What do you hope to gain from this experience?

RH: Knowledge, insight, wisdom. It's such a great opportunity to be in a room with this incredible cast of characters. Just watching them work will be a learning experience. The fact they'll be working on my music is an incredible bonus. I know I'll come away with a lot of new ideas and be better prepared for my next encounter with an orchestra.

ACO: Is there anything you'd like the the audience to know about your piece in advance? Anything you hope they take away from hearing it?


RH: The audience can take away whatever they'd like! I'm happy if my music leaves an impression, good or bad.

Check out Robert Honstein's piece, 200 OK:

New York Philharmonic EarShot Readings: Composer Spotlight - Jesse Jones

SoundAdvice sits down with Jesse Jones, one of the composers selected to participate in the New York Philharmonic EarShot Readings in June, part of the inaugural NY PHIL BIENNIAL. His piece, innumerable stars, scattered in clusters, was read today, June 3, followed by feedback from the New York Philharmonic musicians, maestro Alan Gilbert, and mentor composers. 


American Composers Orchestra: What was the inspiration for your piece that will be read at the New York Philharmonic EarShot Readings?  How has that been incorporated into the work? 

Jesse Jones: In 1609, Galileo Galilei climbed the tallest hill in Rome and looked into the night sky through an instrument of his own invention: the telescope. His initial glimpse into the cosmos led him to record that the heavens were draped with “innumerable stars, scattered in clusters.” This was the first discovery of that vast, sidereal array we now know as the Milky Way.

Four hundred years later, I found myself on that same hilltop, writing music as a fellow at the American Academy in Rome. While there, I would often wake up before the sunrise and walk to my studio beneath the very same sky Galileo had observed so many centuries earlier. At these moments, when the city was still and the stars shone brightly, I would feel a deep connection to history, a special, timeless kinship with Galileo, and, above all, an urge to be productive with my allotted time. So, I decided to write an orchestra piece about the mysterious and expansive nature of both time and space, and found it fitting to use Galileo’s words as a title.


ACO: What were your first thoughts when you were chosen to participate in these Readings, which are part of the inaugural NY PHIL BIENNIAL?
 

JJ: Initially, I wondered if there had been some mistake—having a piece read by the New York Philharmonic was beyond any dream I ever had, and the news seemed very surreal. Once I became convinced that this was indeed real, I felt a rush of profound gratitude and excitement, mixed with passing thoughts of fear and inadequacy. Soon thereafter, my mind turned to the huge, all-consuming task of making orchestral parts, and to making my score look as clear and error-free as possible.

ACO: During the Readings your work will be workshopped with Alan Gilbert, mentor composers, and New York Philharmonic musicians. What do you hope to gain from this experience?

 

JJ: I see this reading and the workshops as an opportunity to learn from the experts: a rare chance to sit and learn at the feet of the masters. I am of course interested to hear how my music sounds in the hands of these great musicians, but mostly I’m just eager to learn how I can improve as an orchestral composer. I hope to glean as much as I can from everyone, including my fellow participants, and to come away with a deeper understanding of orchestra dynamics and colors, as well as a renewed enthusiasm for the orchestral medium.

Monday, June 2, 2014

23rd Annual Underwood New Music Readings: Composer Spotlight - Andy Akiho

SoundAdvice sits down with Andy Akiho, one of the composers selected to participate in ACO's 23rd Annual Underwood New Music Readings on June 6 and 7, part of this year's inaugural NY PHIL BIENNIAL celebration.  His piece, Tarnished Mirrors, is intended to inspire the audience to create their own art.

Photo by Melody Eötvös

American Composers Orchestra: What was the inspiration for your piece that will be read by ACO at the Underwood New Music Readings?  How has that been incorporated into the work?

Andy Akiho: My inspiration was the possibility of having an orchestral work read by an awesome orchestra and conductor. I wanted to write my first orchestral piece with full instrumentation (woodwinds, brass, percussion, strings, etc.). I've written a steel pan concerto for myself, and I've written works for large ensembles, but I've never had the experience of being able to listen to an orchestral work from the audience. It is my dream to have compositions and performances for large forces with infinite timbral colors, so I wanted to give it my best shot to write my first full orchestra piece without a soloist.

ACO: What were your first thoughts when you were chosen to participate in these Readings, which are part of the inaugural NY PHIL BIENNIAL?
AA:  I was extremely happy when I got the phone call! My first thoughts were precisely, "Woohoo" and "Yay!"

ACO: Since you were selected, have you further developed your piece? How have you been preparing yourself and your work for the Readings?


AA: Unfortunately, I did not have an opportunity to revise my piece (I've written three new pieces since April). For this reading, I wanted to spend a lot of time with my copyist getting the score and parts to look great. We got great suggestions from Bill Holab - thanks! Now, I feel more confident that everything will look better for the musicians and conductor (page turns, notational clarity, etc). However, I know that I will want to revise the actual music after these readings with the inspiring advice from my mentors, colleagues and performers.

ACO: During the Readings your work will be workshopped with George Manahan, mentor composers, and ACO musicians. What do you hope to gain from this experience?

AA: I know that I will learn a tremendous amount from this experience because I will be positively influenced by the incredible musicians who are participating. I have always learned the most from workshops, residencies, and personal experiences with performers, conductors, and fellow composer colleagues. I am looking forward to positive inspiration from this experience to apply to my future compositions.

ACO: Is there anything you'd like the the audience to know about your piece in advance? Anything you hope they take away from hearing it?

AA: The piece is titled Tarnished Mirrors, and it is about... (I want the listener(s) to decide). My ultimate goal would be for the audience to be inspired to create art after hearing the premieres on the concert: write, paint, draw, compose, choreograph, cook, improvise, invent, and/or dream (but, without sleep - life's too short for that).

Tarnished Mirrors is currently in one short movement. I want to eventually make this into a three-movement work, where the end of this movement will be expanded into it's own 2nd movement, followed by a rhythmically intense finale.

Photo Credit: Nicole Jeong

Thursday, May 29, 2014

New York Philharmonic EarShot Readings: Composer Spotlight - Julia Adolphe


SoundAdvice sits down with Julia Adolphe, one of the composers selected to participate in the New York Philharmonic EarShot Readings in June, part of the inaugural NY PHIL BIENNIAL. Her piece, Dark Sand, Sifting Light, will be read on June 3, followed by feedback from the New York Philharmonic musicians, maestro Alan Gilbert, and mentor composers. 


American Composers Orchestra: What was the inspiration for your piece that will be read at the New York Philharmonic EarShot Readings?  How has that been incorporated into the work?

Julia Adolphe: The inspiration for Dark Sand, Sifting Light came from the sonic experience of hearing music in the distance. I’ve always loved the sound of a piano being heard from an open window, a familiar melody drifting into focus from far away. When writing for the orchestra, I thought about how the piano sits far back from the audience. I decided to treat the piano as if it were a distant soloist, surrounded by the larger environment of the full orchestra. The piece begins with fragments of a piano melody. A story formed in my mind that I attempted to capture: someone is poised beneath an apartment window, overhearing a pianist practicing. The person listening begins to daydream. This is represented as each note of the piano melody is sustained and colored by the orchestral instruments. The piano music becomes larger than life in the listener’s mind as her thoughts wander and the orchestral sounds transform.

ACO: What were your first thoughts when you were chosen to participate in these Readings, which are part of the inaugural NY PHIL BIENNIAL?

JA: Complete excitement! I am so honored to be included in such a landmark event by one of the world’s greatest orchestras. The series of events are so diverse and compelling and I am thrilled that my music will be included among composers whose works I love and respect. Plus, New York City is where I grew up and I am overjoyed to return and contribute to its vibrant cultural life.

ACO: Since you were selected, have you further developed your piece? How have you been preparing yourself and your work for the Readings?

JA: Absolutely. I re-examined the entire piece and made changes to the orchestration. In particular, the second half of the work has a fast section with many overlapping layers. I re-orchestrated in an attempt to clarify the most important motifs in each moment and build greater drama towards the climax.

ACO: During the Readings your work will be workshopped with Alan Gilbert, mentor composers, and New York Philharmonic musicians. What do you hope to gain from this experience?

JA: I hope to gain as much insight into the art of orchestral composition as I possibly can. My goal is to be open and receptive to all of the feedback given to me, to listen with my ears wide open, and to ask as many questions as possible!

ACO: Is there anything you'd like the musicians who will read the work, or the audience that might hear it, to know about your piece in advance?

JA: I hope that anyone who experiences my music will enjoy and engage with the sounds that transpire. If the music lasts longer than the moment and creates a meaningful memory within a listener, then I will have done my job.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

New York Philharmonic EarShot Readings: Composer Spotlight - Andrew McManus

SoundAdvice sits down with Andrew McManus, one of the composers selected to participate in the New York Philharmonic EarShot Readings in June, part of the inaugural NY PHIL BIENNIAL. His piece, Strobe, will be read on June 3, followed by feedback from the New York Philharmonic musicians, maestro Alan Gilbert, and mentor composers.


Photo Credit: Chelsea Ross

American Composers Orchestra: What was the inspiration for your piece that will be read at the New York Philharmonic EarShot Readings?  How has that been incorporated into the work?

Andrew McManus: In the program notes for Strobe, I talk quite a bit about descriptive musical images: flashing lights, stop motion, faded photographs, electronic dance music. But the very first idea I had for the piece - which eventually became its central idea - was a lot more abstract. In the past few years I’ve gravitated towards techniques that involve a high degree of rhythmic complexity. This includes horizontal complexity, in which a single musical line sounds rhythmically erratic and uneven, and vertical complexity, in which multiple simultaneous musical lines have conflicting rhythmic structures. For Strobe I chose to work with a deceptively simple idea: a pulse that decreases in speed by regular increments (2 beats, 3 beats, 4, 5, 6 etc.) On top of these pulses I added sweeping, ascending gestures. My first sketch for this idea looked like a series of flagpoles with ascending wavy lines of increasing length - certainly a far cry from the vivid and colorful musical images I would later come up with! But bridging this kind of gap is very important to me. While much of Strobe uses detailed manipulations of this idea (superimposing different pieces of the idea in different tempos, for instance), it’s certainly not the only one at play. Some are much more freely and simply constructed: soaring melodies for horn and oboe, a rich string chorale, a thumping kick drum, a brief allusion to swing jazz. Synthesizing these ideas with more complex, abstract ones is a challenge, but it’s one that I love to undertake.

ACO: What were your first thoughts when you were chosen to participate in these Readings, which are part of the inaugural NY PHIL BIENNIAL?

AM: I remember missing the initial call because I was on the phone with a friend, but when I finally checked my messages and called back I couldn’t stop thinking about how thrilled and honored I was. I’ve been in love with orchestral music since I was 10 or 11 years old, and it’s always held a special place in my compositional heart. So to be able to work with such an esteemed orchestra is incredibly meaningful to me.

ACO: Since you were selected, have you further developed your piece? How have you been preparing yourself and your work for the Readings?

AM: I wrote Strobe for a reading session organized by the University of Chicago for graduate student composers last year. While I chose not to make any changes since then, I have been thinking quite a bit about what details to refine. For instance, I knew that the U of C reading session would have a small string section, and I balanced the dynamic markings accordingly. This becomes a perpetual challenge when you write complex textures with many moving parts! There were certain passages, however, where I missed the sound of a large string section. While I’m happy to have more strings for this reading, I know that this will affect balance in other parts of the piece. And I’m definitely looking forward to learning something from how this plays out.

ACO: During the Readings your work will be workshopped with Alan Gilbert, mentor composers, and New York Philharmonic musicians. What do you hope to gain from this experience?

AM: I’ve known and admired the work of Maestro Gilbert and all of the mentor composers for a long time, so I’m thrilled that I’ll be able to work with them in person and receive their feedback. And the opportunity to work with such incredibly accomplished musicians is incredibly rare, so I’m really looking forward to hearing their reactions to the piece.

ACO: Is there anything you'd like the musicians who will read the work, or the audience that might hear it, to know about your piece in advance?

AM: I’ve worked quite a bit with electronic music, and I’ve found that it requires paying a great deal of attention to the timbral details of every sound I make. This has heavily influenced my acoustic music, and Strobe is no exception. It’s a piece full of noises - some bizarre or unpleasant, others beautiful, and many somewhere in between.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

23rd Annual Underwood New Music Readings: Composer Spotlight - Kyle Peter Rotolo

SoundAdvice sits down with Kyle Peter Rotolo, one of the composers selected to participate in ACO's 23rd Annual Underwood New Music Readings on June 6 and 7, part of this year's inaugural NY PHIL BIENNIAL celebration.  His piece, Apophis, is based on the Earth-bound asteroid of the same name. Rotolo assures us, it "is very unlikely to collide with us."


American Composers Orchestra: What were your first thoughts when you were chosen to participate in these Readings, which are part of the inaugural NY PHIL BIENNIAL?

Kyle Peter Rotolo: Hang up the phone before they change their minds! I was thrilled that Apophis would be given new life.  As my first significant effort in writing for the orchestra, I did not expect much to happen after I put a double bar on it.  There was no commission involved or performances booked. While I was studying at Brevard Music Center in summer 2012, students had an opportunity to sketch some ideas for the orchestra to read, so I took advantage of that and put some thoughts down.  I decided to finish the process at the end of my Master’s work, but it was all up in the air after graduation.  The Underwood Readings acceptance was the best kind of surprise.

ACO: Since you were selected, have you further developed your piece? How have you been preparing yourself and your work for the Readings?

KPR:  For better or worse, I have the habit of being a chronic reviser of my scores.  However, after a certain point, there is a diminishing rate of returns.  Trying to improve on that 1% of the piece that you are not comfortable with is most often a futile endeavor.  The piece was just fine when it was sent out in December, so it’s probably just fine now.  My main focus has been triple-checking all my parts, making sure everybody has the same amount of bars and rehearsal numbers, and I’ve taken Bill Holab’s excellent feedback to heart regarding music publishing.

ACO: During the Readings your work will be workshopped with George Manahan, mentor composers, and ACO musicians. What do you hope to gain from this experience?


KPR: The music making process is fascinating in large part because every element is viewed subjectively; impressions vary from person to person.  It is always enlightening to hear how another composer or performer views something I have written, and shares how they see the potential for things to go a different way.  Much to my chagrin, I often agree!  There is a reason these artists are so esteemed.  It is because their thoughts make excellent musical sense.  So I hope everyone, including my colleagues, is forthcoming with their opinions and suggestions.  I hope they hold nothing back.

ACO: Is there anything you'd like the audience to know about your piece in advance? Anything you hope they take away from hearing it?

KPR: First, some good news:  Apophis, the Earth-bound asteroid, is very unlikely to collide with us.  Second, although the piece takes its name from the popular science story, the music is not written in a strictly narrative form. Apophis is not a literal character represented in the music.  More so, the piece is written in a way that combines a good number of layers (contrapuntally, heterophonically, and any other way I could think of) to create a colossal texture.  And while I am skeptical that music can ever be “about” something, I hope the final impression Apophis leaves is an uplifting one.

Monday, May 19, 2014

23rd Annual Underwood New Music Readings: Composer Spotlight - Melody Eotvos

SoundAdvice sits down with Melody Eötvös, one of the composers selected to participate in ACO's 23rd Annual Underwood New Music Readings on June 6 and 7, part of this year's inaugural NY PHIL BIENNIAL celebration. She describes her piece Beetles, Dragons & Dreamers as "something very old and archaic... hiding menacingly behind the face of something modern."

American Composers Orchestra: What was the inspiration for your piece that will be read by ACO at the Underwood New Music Readings?  How has that been incorporated into the work?

Melody Eötvös: My inspiration for this piece was my strong attraction to historical/philosophical icons and relics that have continued to be used and referred to in our culture throughout the centuries.  Many of these we encounter on a daily basis (such as the risk of computer viruses on our devices, and the sometimes restless of trying to get to sleep), whiles others have a more specific link to one place or another (i.e. the Native American dream catcher).  Explaining how I captured this in the work is a little more difficult.  I’m a deeply intuitive composer so I often follow my ear with a high level of trust – the main impression I wanted people to perceive in this music though is a sense of something very old and archaic (represented perhaps with modal/polymodal harmonies and linear motives) hiding menacingly behind the face of something modern.  The face of this piece (in this case the timbre/texture) is slightly transparent, which allows moments of that dark and older core to show through.

ACO: What were your first thoughts when you were chosen to participate in these Readings, which are part of the inaugural NY PHIL BIENNIAL?

ME: My first thought was actually a bit of a strange one – when I received the call from ACO it was April 1st , and, never realistically expecting I would be chosen for the Readings, for just a moment it flashed though my head that this was a prank.  Half a second later though that thought disappeared and I was listening intently to my instructions and mentally making a list of things I needed to do to prepare for this.

ACO: Since you were selected, have you further developed your piece? How have you been preparing yourself and your work for the Readings?

ME: Since this work is my DM Dissertation I was actually lucky enough to have it performed by the University Orchestra here at the Jacobs School of Music about a month ago.  So a lot of problems and practical things came up during those rehearsals and I was able address several of these in preparation for the ACO readings.  As far as other preparations are concerned, making the final score and parts as perfect as humanly possible has been my primary concern for a while now.

ACO: During the Readings your work will be workshopped with George Manahan, mentor composers, and ACO musicians. What do you hope to gain from this experience?

ME: I hope most of all to get feedback and guidance on the sound world and structure that I’m trying to achieve in my music – I know the music of the mentor composers quite well now and a good amount of trust develops the more you respect a mature composers art and perspective, which I thoroughly do in all of these cases.  I was fortunate enough to recently meet Derek Bermel in Hong Kong too, during which he provided me with an alarming amount of helpful advice and encouragement.  So I’m very eager to meet Beaser, Wilson, and Wolfe in New York this June.

Is there anything you'd like the the audience to know about your piece in advance? Anything you hope they take away from hearing it?

ME: There is quite an extensive program note which explains in more detail the gist behind each movement, however, if wanted to give a last little push for what to perceive in it I would say to try and listen from a middle point where you’re aware of that darker threatening inside character of the sound always trying to come through, but try to hear it through the lighter transparent skin that I’ve put it in.

Listen to the fourth movement of Eötvös' Attic Tragedy (2008), the predecessor of Beetles, Dragons & Dreamors:

Thursday, May 15, 2014

New York Philharmonic EarShot Readings: Composer Spotlight - William Dougherty

SoundAdvice sits down with William Dougherty, one of the composers selected to participate in the New York Philharmonic EarShot Readings in June, part of the inaugural NY PHIL BIENNIAL. His piece, Into Focus, will be read on June 3, followed by feedback from the New York Philharmonic musicians, maestro Alan Gilbert, and mentor composers.


American Composers Orchestra: What was the inspiration for your piece that will be read at the New York Philharmonic EarShot Readings?  How has that been incorporated into the work?

William Dougherty: Into Focus is a work that seeks to aurally explore the three areas of visual perception known as the focus, fringe, and margin. When a person focuses on something visually, that object, on which the viewer’s attention is focused, is represented clearly. The spaces around this point become increasingly blurred into the peripheral. My goal in Into Focus was to continually obscure the listener’s points of focus by superimposing large harmonic blocks of sound, which constantly blur the work’s pitch centers.

ACO: What were your first thoughts when you were chosen to participate in these Readings, which are part of the inaugural NY PHIL BIENNIAL?


WD: I was, of course, honored and grateful to have been chosen to participate in the readings. It’s no secret that opportunities for young composers to have new orchestral works read by world-class musicians are few and far between. I view this as an overwhelming promising sign for American music that the NY Phil has decided to take a leading role in supporting adventurous new works by emerging composers.

ACO: Since you were selected, have you further developed your piece? How have you been preparing yourself and your work for the Readings?


WD: Yes. I divided the strings differently – particularly the 1st violins – to allow for more specific groupings and therefore a wider variety of string textures. For example, the 1stviolins are sometimes divided into players 1-4, 5-7, 8-10 and at other times, 1, 2-5, 6-8, 9-10.

ACO: Is there anything you'd like the musicians who will read the work, or the audience that might hear it, to know about your piece in advance?


WD: Into Focus is a work in which I intentionally avoid a typical narrative development where certain intervallic and rhythmic motives are juxtaposed and transformed, constantly reappearing and culminating in the climax of the form. Rather, in this work, I am much more concerned with creating an expanse of sound that envelops the performers and audience alike – exploring sounds that do not require resolution or demand a traditional elaboration.


Hear William Dougherty's piece Winded for wind ensemble and tape here:







Wednesday, May 14, 2014

New York Philharmonic EarShot Readings: Composer Spotlight - Max Grafe

SoundAdvice sits down with Max Grafe, one of the comopsers selected to participate in the New York Philharmonic EarShot Readings in June, part of the inaugural NY PHIL BIENNIAL. His piece, Bismuth: Variations for Orchestra, will be read on June 3, followed by feedback from the New York Philharmonic musicians, maestro Alan Gilbert, and mentor composers.

Photo Credit: Harrison Linsey

American Composers Orchestra: What was the inspiration for your piece that will be read at the New York Philharmonic EarShot Readings?  How has that been incorporated into the work?

Max Grafe: Bismuth: Variations for Orchestra was something of a departure for me in terms of its inspiration. The previous several pieces I had written were all heavily informed by distinctly extramusical sources, whether theater, literature, visual arts, ancient mythology, science, or a combination thereof. In conceiving of Bismuth, however, I made a conscious decision to write a piece with a higher degree of abstraction than the one to which I was accustomed: one where the content and narrative were determined not by an outside force, but solely according to their musical characteristics and implications. I decided that the most appropriate form for the piece to take in order to accomplish this goal was a theme and variations, although I adapted it from its traditional structure to suit my own musical proclivities. To wit, each variation is not necessarily directly upon the theme, but rather upon a salient feature of the variation that precedes it. Additionally, once the theme is restated at the midpoint of the piece, the preceding variations are revisited in reverse order in an effort to create a sense of musical symmetry. That symmetrical plan, in combination with the work's colorful, angular, and varied musical style, led me to name it after the otherworldly geometry and many-hued patina of a pure bismuth crystal.

ACO: What were your first thoughts when you were chosen to participate in these Readings, which are part of the inaugural NY PHIL BIENNIAL?

MG: The news came during a time of complex emotions for me: in fact, on the same day that a close family member passed away after a long illness. Although this made the occasion decidedly bittersweet, I can't remember ever being more elated at a piece of news, and I was grateful to have my family there to share in my excitement. Besides the initial shock, my first thoughts were ones of profound gratitude: toward the family members, friends, and mentors who helped me reach this point, for the opportunity to work with such a world-class ensemble as the Philharmonic, and for being chosen to be a part of such a groundbreaking event as the Biennial.

ACO: Since you were selected, have you further developed your piece? How have you been preparing yourself and your work for the Readings?

MG: I've made a few minor adjustments to the music itself, but most of my work since being selected has been focused on making the score and parts as professional and legible as possible. Our preliminary work with Bill Holab on engraving our music for maximum clarity was an important and valuable step in this process, and resulted in my making some substantial formatting changes--particularly to the score--in an effort to minimize ambiguity in my notation and make the most out of the limited page space available.

ACO: During the Readings your work will be workshopped with Alan Gilbert, mentor composers, and New York Philharmonic musicians. What do you hope to gain from this experience?

MG: I actually have rather little experience in writing for and working with orchestras. Bismuth is my first truly substantial orchestral work (aside from a few incomplete and marginally successful attempts), and this will be the first reading of my music by a professional orchestra. As such, I expect that the workshop sessions with maestro Gilbert, the mentor composers, and the orchestra musicians will provide a great deal of insight into both the musical and practical challenges of the orchestral medium. I'm sure that, for all the thought I've put into writing and engraving the piece, there are still issues waiting to blindside me, simply by virtue of my relative inexperience. However, I'm incredibly grateful for the opportunity to work through these issues with such a distinguished group of musicians and composers, and I can't think of a better team to help me get a more secure grasp on the craft of writing for orchestral forces.

ACO: Is there anything you'd like the musicians who will read the work, or the audience that might hear it, to know about your piece in advance?

MG: Above all else, enjoy yourselves!

Hear Max Grafe's Pavane and Galliard (2014) and see the score below:


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

23rd Annual Underwood New Music Readings: Composer Spotlight - Jared Miller

SoundAdvice sits down with Jared Miller, one of the composers selected to participate in ACO's 23rd Annual Underwood New Music Readings on June 6 and 7, part of this year's inaugural NY PHIL BIENNIAL celebration. His piece Contrasted Perspectives is inspired by the Surrealist art movement. 


American Composers Orchestra: What was the inspiration for your piece that will be read by ACO at the Underwood New Music Readings?  How has that been incorporated into the work?

Jared Miller: Largely a result of having access to New York's great art museums (MOMA, the Met etc.), over the past couple of years, I have developed a real interest in the Surrealist paintings of the early twentieth century. Often inspired by the creator's dreams, Surrealist art contains sharply juxtaposing images and ideas presented simultaneously in scintillating detail. Emotionally, this art invokes a multitude of reactions from me - ranging from mirth, to sorrow to sheer awe. Contrasted Perspectives attempts to explore this multiplicity. The first movement, “Dalí” is most significantly influenced by his famous painting "The Persistence of Memory." I used the various colors, timbres and sonorities of the orchestra to depict the melting clocks and shimmering waves of desert heat pictured in his dream-like magnum opus (pictured above, courtesy of MOMA). "Fellini," the second movement, deals with the idea of juxtaposition and was inspired by the famous Italian filmmaker. Taking bits of musical material from the first movement, I recast them in various musical styles - from Jazz, to quasi-Stravinsky, to an Italian-style opera overture - that overlap and segue into one another. The overall effect should be one of ordered chaos, as exemplified in this clip of Fellini's 8 1/2.



ACO: What were your first thoughts when you were chosen to participate in these Readings, which are part of the inaugural NY PHIL BIENNIAL?

JM: I was walking down Broadway when I got the call and if memory serves correctly, I'm pretty sure I let out a fairly vocal "Woohoo!" (a la Homer Simpson, circa 1994) upon finding out. After the initial (and obvious...) excitement of the news, I took it as a true honor. The ACO was one of the first orchestras I'd ever heard in New York when attended the premiere of Chinese composer Fang Man's Resurrection back in 2009. Since then, I have been consistently impressed with their stunning musicianship, innovative programming and fantastic artistic leadership under George Manahan. The opportunity to work with them seems unparalleled. I also cannot wait to hear my piece! I pushed myself to experiment with a lot of musical techniques and languages I wasn't super-familiar with when I was writing it, so - like all of my fellow UNMR participants - I am very interested to hear the results of my efforts!

ACO: Since you were selected, have you further developed your piece? How have you been preparing yourself and your work for the Readings?

JM: When you write an orchestral piece, it can be challenging to make what you think will be effective changes to the written music if you haven't heard it yet.  Since the first time I will be hearing Contrasted Perspectives will be at the UNMR, I didn't change very much from the initial score I submitted in my ACO application. That said, I plan on going over the score after I've heard it and making changes to the piece based on what I've heard - especially if I am fortunate enough to have the piece performed again! Meanwhile, I've been going over the score and taking note of anything that might be unclear to the conductor or orchestral musicians so if questions happen to arise in the reading, I can answer them efficiently and effectively. 

ACO: During the Readings your work will be workshopped with George Manahan, mentor composers, and ACO musicians. What do you hope to gain from this experience?

JM: I hope to learn a lot from the experience. I consider it a great privilege to be able to work with musicians and a conductor who are very "at home" with new music. I believe the advice they will provide for me - especially regarding some of the unconventional playing techniques I've asked for - will be invaluable. Moreover, I am really looking forward to gaining the perspective of the four mentor composers. I respect all of them deeply as artists and as teachers so I think there will be a lot to be gained from their comments on my music.

ACO: Is there anything you'd like the the audience to know about your piece in advance? Anything you hope they take away from hearing it?

JM: One aspect of writing orchestral music that I absolutely love is infusing it with a sense of humor! I find this to be both creatively satisfying and artistically genuine. My piece - especially the second movement, "Fellini" - is meant to be light-hearted, so I hope this comes across to the listener. If I am lucky, the audience will be smiling and maybe even chuckling by the end of it!




Friday, May 9, 2014

New York Philharmonic EarShot Readings: Composer Spotlight - Wang Lu

SoundAdvice sits down with Wang Lu, a previous participant in ACO's Underwood New Music Readings and one of the comopsers selected to participate in the New York Philharmonic EarShot Readings in June, part of the inaugural NY PHIL BIENNIAL. Her piece, Scenes from the Bosco Sacro, will be read on June 3, followed by feedback from the New York Philharmonic musicians, maestro Alan Gilbert, and mentor composers.

American Composers Orchestra: What was the inspiration for your piece that will be read at the New York Philharmonic EarShot Readings?  How has that been incorporated into the work?

The inspiration for Scenes from the Bosco Sacro came from a visit last year to the Bosco Sacro, or "Sacred Grove," a Mannerist garden complex in Italy, about an hour's drive north of Rome. I was struck by the strange, grotesque depictions of historical and mythological figures, a kind of historical amusement park, and wanted to convey this bizarre experience through the piece.

Wang Lu: What were your first thoughts when you were chosen to participate in these Readings, which are part of the inaugural NY PHIL BIENNIAL?

It was of course exhilarating, and I immediately thought to look again at the score, since it had been a few months since the submission.

ACO: Since you were selected, have you further developed your piece? How have you been preparing yourself and your work for the Readings?


  I made adjustments to the form, clarified some of the orchestration, and made some improvements to the engraving.

WL: During the Readings your work will be workshopped with Alan Gilbert, mentor composers, and New York Philharmonic musicians. What do you hope to gain from this experience?

The opportunity for a composer to hear any orchestral work is incredibly rare. I look forward to interacting with the musicians, getting feedback from composers I admire, who have years of experience writing for the medium, and working with a conductor who is a great champion of new work.

Wang Lu at the Bosco Sacro in Italy

Thursday, May 8, 2014

23rd Annual Underwood New Music Readings: Composer Spotlight - Haralabos Stafylakis

SoundAdvice sits down with Haralabos Stafylakis, one of the composers selected to participate in ACO's 23rd Annual Underwood New Music Readings on June 6 and 7, part of this year's inaugural NY PHIL BIENNIAL celebration. His work Brittle Fracture attempts to depict an unusual type of material structural failure in musical terms, and is inspired by techniques commonly employed in pop music production.
American Composers Orchestra: What was the inspiration for your piece that will be read by ACO at the Underwood New Music Readings?  How has that been incorporated into the work?

Haralabos Stafylakis: The inspiration for Brittle Fracture (2013) came from multiple sources.  One thing that I don't mention in the program notes for the work is how the main theme and my orchestrational approach were inspired by electronic effects typically used in popular music styles.

The principle theme of the work – a 2- to 4-note repeating figure – came about as I was sitting around one day with my electric guitar in hand. I'd been listening to a lot of beautifully-produced metal and pop music at the time, and on a whim put an exaggerated delay effect on my guitar amp.  I fiddled around with the instrument, playing the simplest possible musical ideas and seeing how they were transformed in time by the prominent delay effect.  Eventually I settled on the motive that is heard throughout Brittle Fracture, but instead of relying on electronic manipulation, I orchestrated the delay effect using traditional instruments.

Likewise, the gradual introduction of the orchestral instruments was based on a sample-and-hold audio circuit, which functions by tracking an incoming stream of voltage values, selecting one, and freezing it for a short time; it then selects another value, and so on.  In Brittle Fracture, the piano begins with the above-mentioned theme on its own.  The orchestra functions as a set of parallel sample-and-hold circuits: it "tracks" the piano part, and every so often an instrument captures one of the piano's pitches, holding it indefinitely.  A different value (pitch) is captured every time, so that there is an accumulation of sound across the orchestra's range; the interactions between the captured pitches informs a good deal of the piece.

Finally, the title of the work was borrowed from the field of materials science.  The study of fracture mechanics makes a fundamental distinction between fractures that occur at different levels of tensile stress.  In the case of brittle fracture, there is little or no apparent plastic deformation before failure occurs; in other words, cracks travel so fast that it is often impossible to tell when the material will break.  Formally, Brittle Fracture attempts to depict this type of structural failure in musical terms.  As musical tension builds to a critical level, a series of fractures occurs, slicing between two contrasting musical surfaces until the inevitable and complete dissolution of their constituent materials.

ACO: What were your first thoughts when you were chosen to participate in these Readings, which are part of the inaugural NY PHIL BIENNIAL?

HS: My first thought was to go home and make some inspired celebratory cocktails for myself and my wife [composer Nina C. Young, who participated in Underwood in 2013] and to see how long I could withhold the news from her while maintaining conversation.  I think we were halfway through our first drink before I casually let the news slip.  My second thought was how excited I was to hear Brittle Fracture be performed by a symphony orchestra.  My third thought was despondency at the amount of work I'd have to put into making orchestral parts.  My fourth was how much this opportunity was worth the labor.

ACO: Since you were selected, have you further developed your piece? How have you been preparing yourself and your work for the Readings?

HS: Brittle Fracture was originally composed for chamber orchestra during my residency with the CUNY Graduate Center's Contemporary Music Ensemble.  I began adapting it to symphony orchestra during my residency at the New Music on the Point festival last summer.  But since this new version has not yet been performed, I've spent the past few weeks refining the score to make it as impactful – and playable – as possible.  I've been to several ACO concerts and have at least some sense of what would work best in a reading situation with minimal rehearsal, so I've been tailoring my notation for maximum clarity.  Part of the process with the Underwood readings is that professional engraver/typesetter Bill Holab studies our scores and parts and provides us with his recommendations on how to improve them; this has been an invaluable service to me.

ACO: During the Readings your work will be workshopped with George Manahan, mentor composers, and ACO musicians. What do you hope to gain from this experience?


HS: Something I've come to learn throughout my experience as a young composer and arranger is how complex the orchestral medium really is.  No matter how many orchestration textbooks I study or courses I take, the actual interactions between the orchestra's multitudinous instruments rarely come out quite as I imagine them.  As I've learned from one of my mentors, David Del Tredici, effective orchestration can't quite be taught – it must be learned from the personal experience of hearing one's work performed by a live orchestra.  The Underwood New Music Readings offer an incredible opportunity to hear the results of my imagined orchestration in rehearsal and in performance.  With score in hand, and with the added perspectives of maestro Manahan, the ACO players, my colleagues, and the mentor composers, I expect to leave with a deeper understanding – and a stronger command – of the orchestral medium.

ACO: Is there anything you'd like the audience to know about your piece in advance? Anything you hope they take away from hearing it?

HS: Until this piece, my compositional approach was based on a dialectic narrative process between musical themes that could be thought of as characters in a novel or film.  A first theme is presented, it evolves and develops until another theme is introduced, which itself evolves, etc. Eventually the various themes meet, interact in various conflicting or complimentary ways, evolving together...

Brittle Fracture eschews that tradition.  A theme is presented at the beginning and remains essentially unchanged throughout the work, with only subtle mutations occurring in its cellular design.  Instead, it is the musical environment around it that changes, constantly altering the context within which the invariable theme is heard.  I imagine its journey through the work as an analogy for humanity's progress through history: physiologically, our species has changed very little over the past tens of thousands of years, but we've altered the world around us so persistently and thoroughly that the various stages of our civilizations bear little resemblance to each other.  I think this would be a fruitful way to listen to the piece: follow that one theme from beginning to end and listen to how the world around it morphs.

Listen to Stafylakis' Brittle Fracture


Sunday, May 4, 2014

Berkeley Symphony EarShot Under Construction Readings Composer Spotlight – Composer Sivan Eldar, Part 2

Berkeley Symphony Music Director Joana Carneiro reviews composer Sivan Eldar’s score for A Thousand Tongues at a session at the Berkeley Symphony EarShot Under Construction Readings.


SoundAdvice catches up with composer Sivan Eldar, who is participating in the Berkeley Symphony EarShot Under Construction Readings on May 4 and 5, 2014 at the Osher Studio in Berkeley, CA. Sivan shared with us her experience of working with Berkeley Symphony Music Director Joana Carneiro, mentor-composers Robert Beaser and Ed Campion, and the musicians that performed her piece, A Thousand Tongues, at the first Readings session in February.

American Composers Orchestra: How would you describe your experience at the first Readings session back in February?

Sivan Eldar: Everyone involved was extremely enthusiastic, curious, thoughtful. And also extremely generous. It was a great experience.

ACO: What did you learn from the experience of working with the mentor composers, Maestro Joana Carneiro, and the musicians of the Berkeley Symphony on your piece? Have your interactions with them impacted your composition? If so how?

S.E.: I really enjoyed working with Joana Carneiro. During the reading I jotted down comments on my score: a gesture that needed to blend better, a texture that needed to be brighter or more delicate. But before I had a chance to say anything, she was already rehearsing those parts again, and getting the balance just right. She seemed to understand our music in a very intuitive way.

I also thought that Robert Beaser and Ed Campion – our mentor composers – were a great pair. During the feedback session, when one would focus on form, the other would fill in the gaps about orchestration, and vise versa. They were full of energy and very passionate about helping us make our pieces as good as possible. To me the sessions with them were inspiring, not only as a composer, but also as a teacher of young composers.

As for the musicians of the Berkeley Symphony, I was very motivated by their willingness to think critically about our music and share their thoughts and comments. My piece opens with a flute/clarinet duet accompanied by percussion. The feedback I got from these three players, both before and after the reading, added character to the opening, and a new kind of depth. I have already incorporated their suggestions into the score!

ACO: What was the experience like to hear your piece read by the Berkeley Symphony? Has listening to your piece performed live provided any insights into how you will further develop your work?  

S.E.: To be honest, I was very nervous about the first half of the piece. The texture was sparse and a little unusual for the orchestra: breathy bass flute, very soft bass clarinet, inhales in the brass section. I was afraid that it would come across as “too thin” rather than intimate and dreamlike. Interestingly, it turned out to be the most interesting and haunting section of the piece. And also the material that I ended up developing most for the second reading.