Thursday, February 27, 2014

Detroit Symphony EarShot Classical Roots Readings Composer Spotlight – Composer Kevin Scott

Composer Kevin Scott

Composer Kevin Scott’s A Point Served...(In Remembrance Arthur Ashe) was written in the commemoration of the sporting legend and civil rights champion Arthur Ashe. The composition will be read at the Detroit Symphony EarShot Classical Roots Readings on March 9 at Orchestra Hall in Detroit, MI. Find out from this interview with Kevin, how A Point Served… was in part a response to Debussy’s Jeux and what he hopes he will get out the experience of taking part in the Readings.

American Composers Orchestra: What was the inspiration for your composition? How have you taken this inspiration and incorporated it into your work that will be read at the Detroit Symphony EarShot Classical Roots Readings?  
Kevin Scott: When I heard about Arthur Ashe's passing, I felt that a chapter in both sports and African-American history had lost a great person who was a figurehead in his profession, and a true role model for generations to come, and a few days after his death I decided to compose a work in his memory. 

Ashe's inspiration as a champion of civil rights, as well as one of the best in the field of tennis, compelled me to combine the two aspects of his life. I wanted to musically capture the tennis game in an abstract way, and in doing this I decided to feature mallet percussion, harp and piano imitating the repartee between players, hitting the ball across the net, complete with footsteps, stumbles and a few inaudible breaths and mutterings, while at the same time there is a theme that begins in the strings that spells his name, employing a variation of soggetto cavato (carved-out subject), which I use in several of my compositions to either depict a person or a subject. This theme is subject to transfiguration and minute variation through the use of post-serial techniques, though not used in a strict way.

ACO: Since you have been chosen to participate in these Readings, have you furthered developed your composition? How have you been preparing yourself and your work for the Readings? 
KS: This will be its first performance with a live orchestra, so I consider it a finished composition, but that does not mean that it may be subject to revision after I hear it. I may like what I hear, or I may find myself re-orchestrating passages in the composition.

Preparing myself is a challenge. The best way to prepare one's self for something like this is not to worry about it until you get there, and then take the situation as it comes. You don't want to build false hopes or anxieties for yourself.

ACO: During the readings your work will be workshopped with the help and guidance of Detroit Symphony music director Leonard Slatkin, mentor composers, and DSO musicians. What do you hope to get out of this experience? 
KS: One hopes that they will look at the composition at face value and offer their suggestions with no prejudice. Composers always learn from each other, and also to hear the feedback from Leonard Slatkin will be an added plus, as he will have seen my music, or that of my colleagues, for the first time and will have an open ear and eye about what he's encountering.

ACO: Your composition will be read live to the public during the Readings. Is there anything about the piece that you would like the audience to know about before hearing it? 
KS: This is one of three works that make up my unofficial African-American trilogy for orchestra, the other two works musically portraying Betty Shabazz (Malcolm X's widow) and Thurgood Marshall, though all three works should be played separately. In many ways, A point served... is my response to Debussy's Jeux, which also depicts a tennis game, albeit with a more intimate and personal scenario than mine, but at the same time my composition is also the most abstract of my orchestral works, a fantasia uninhibited by classical form or structure of any sort.

ACO: You will also taking part in the professional development workshops during the Readings. Is there anything specific that you hope you will learn from attending these workshops?
KS: Again, one can learn from each other, and rather than dwell on what to expect, I'm just going in with an open eye and ear and learn what is and isn't, what should be done and what shouldn't be done, and as we continue to find new techniques, styles and presentations, learn to adapt them into one's own perspective of music and take it from there.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Orchestra Underground: Lines On A Point Composer Spotlight – Lisa Renée Coons

Composer Lisa Renée Coons
Composer Lisa Renée Coons’ composition Vera’s Ghosts will have its world premiere at American Composers Orchestra’s Orchestra Underground: Lines On A Point concert on February 20 at Zankel Hall, Carnegie Hall. Lisa has kindly shared with us the personal story that has inspired her work and how she hopes the audience will respond to Vera’s Ghosts.

American Composers Orchestra: What inspired your composition Vera's Ghosts
Lisa Renée Coons: My once vibrant and passionate grandmother, Vera, has slowly been losing the battle with dementia—there is now almost nothing of her previous ‘self’ left. This piece tries to capture the pain and fear of that trajectory, both hers and my mother’s as she cared for her. Or perhaps, more honestly, it is even more inspired by my own fear of that disease. The conductor acts as protagonist, surrounded by the musicians who are placed around him in a sparse U-formation. He often loses control of the gestures and becomes submerged in noise as ideas are passed quickly around the space between individual players, like an infection spreading. Moments of beauty deteriorate into angry episodes of confusion and frustration, but the end is a sort of 'hymn' - it is a quiet acceptance of someone who no longer communicates, but rather lives alone with her ghosts.

ACO: How would you describe your composition process for Vera's Ghosts? Did you face any challenges that you had to resolve during the composition?
LRC: Notation for the spatialized gestures - especially those based on the reactions of the musicians rather than the motion of the conductor - represented a new challenge for me. I have never written anything so physical for a large ensemble like string orchestra and I am excited to hear it realized.

ACO: What are you most looking forward to in having your work performed by American Composers Orchestra in its World Premiere at Carnegie Hall? 
LRC: I am grateful to have the opportunity to collaborate with these amazing musicians.  This piece is new and challenging in many ways, and I am eager to have it realized by the musicians of ACO.  But I am also quite touched to be included with the other composers on the concert. I look forward to this concert as both a composer and an audience member.

ACO: Is there anything that you hope the audience will get out of listening to your work? Is there anything they should listen for?  
LRC: I would like for the audience to focus on the movement of textures and gestures - to let themselves be immersed in sound rather than listening for motivic development or themes.  My hope would be for them to have visceral responses to the sound, and that this piece will provide an engaging experience as much as it acts as music.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Orchestra Underground: Lines On A Point Composer Spotlight – Amy Beth Kirsten

Composer Amy Beth Kirsten
Beginning with a poem, composer Amy Beth Kirsten has transformed it into her composition, strange pilgrims, which will have its world premiere at American Composers Orchestra’s Orchestra Underground: Lines On A Point concert on February 20 at Zankel Hall, Carnegie Hall. Along with music, strange pilgrims, will also feature a video by Mark DeChiazza. In this interview, find out how this collaboration came about and the journey that Amy Beth has taken in composing her work strange pilgrims.

American Composers Orchestra: What inspired your composition strange pilgrims? How would you describe your composition process? 
Amy Beth Kirsten: Actually, reflecting on the idea of composing inspired the poem and the music for the piece. I wrote the poem when I was just finishing up an evening length theater piece for the chamber group, eighth blackbird, that was incredibly challenging to compose; it was a process that was more collaborative than anything I'd done before and it required making many sketches and rewrites (over the course of a few years) as well as composing about forty minutes of music that, in the end, I decided not to use in the final piece. I pushed myself harder and further than ever before and, in the end, made something I'm super satisfied with. During this three-year long journey I often felt a very strong spiritual pull and meditated quite a lot throughout. The poem for strange pilgrims is a reflection on this process. I sent the poem to Mark DeChiazza (whose stage direction was an essential part of making the eighth blackbird piece) and we started talking about the possibility of working together (again!) - the idea for the music/video project blossomed from there. I decided to dedicate strange pilgrims to my beloved, Christopher Theofanidis, who is also a composer, because we often talk together about making new art and what it means to us personally and spiritually. 

Credit: Mark DeChiazza

ACO: Did incorporating the video have any impact on your piece? 
ABK: One of most challenging things was that the text and the music for the piece came first (before I knew what the images looked like). Mark and I intuit each other’s imaginations very easily so that helped a lot; he described the images that he was thinking of and how the video might interact with the music. Because I've never incorporated video before, it was a leap of faith that I'd be able to compose music that left enough room for the images to have a definitive presence in the piece. We aimed to structure the music and the video to have a kind of symbiotic relationship. I'll be seeing the final piece a few hours before the audience does, and that's pretty thrilling to me! 

ACO: As this upcoming performance will be the world premiere of strange pilgrims is there anything you are most looking forward to in hearing it performed lived by American Composers Orchestra and The Crossing chamber choir? 
ABK: I'm really curious to hear what several sections of the music sound like; these are sections that use an interpretive kind of music notation and so far I've only been able to approximate the sound for myself. I'm also looking forward to the rest of Mark Andrew's (director of photography) incredibly moving images and to see what Mark DeChiazza created with them. It's especially rewarding to be an alumna of the ACO Readings and come back and work with this fine orchestra on something new, as well as to work with The Crossing for the first time. I feel incredibly honored to be included on a concert that features David Lang, Steve Reich, and Ted Hearne; these are composers whose music I'm crazy about and who have long influenced my musical thinking. I'll also be cheering for Lisa Coons who has a world premiere that evening as well. So all in all, it'll be a pretty exciting night!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Orchestra Underground: Lines On A Point Composer Spotlight – David Lang

Composer David Lang  Photo: Peter Serling
statement to the court, composed by David Lang, co-founder of Bang on a Can and Carnegie Hall’s Debs Composers’ Chair for 2013-2014, will be performed by The Crossing chamber choir and American Composers Orchestra at ACO’s Orchestra Underground: Lines On A Point concert on Thursday, February 20 at Zankel Hall, Carnegie Hall. In this interview, David Lang sheds light on the challenges he faced in composing statement to the court, the dedication of his work to Frances Richards, ASCAP, and what he is most looking forward to at the upcoming performance! 

ACO: What was your composition process for your piece statement to the court

David Lang: The text is from a famous political speech, delivered by the American socialist Eugene Debs, upon his conviction for sedition, for advocating that the United States stay out of the first World War.  I wanted to capture the rhythm of the speech, the power of it, but also something of the direct 4/4 agit-protest march rhythm appropriate to its world. I listened to a bunch of labor and protest songs before I wrote it, and I still can almost hear them in the background.

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

DL: The greatest challenge I had to deal with was how to use the text to model the relationships between the chorus and the orchestra.  Choirs and orchestras are hierarchical - there are rules and relationships about how the music is normally made, and I wondered if I could change some of them, so that the relationships would be more in the spirit of the text.  So I came up with what I thought would be a more democratic way to define all the society of musicians - everyone sings almost everything together, the strings double almost everything the singers sing, so they feel like equals, and there are many short vocal solos that are supposed to be divided equally among the voices, so that everyone can be valued as a community member and as an individual as well. 

ACO: Your composition is dedicated to Frances Richard, ASCAP, who is also being honored at this Orchestra Underground performance. Can you tell us more about this dedication and the impact that Frances has had in her work with ASCAP? 

DL: I love Fran, and I have loved Fran for as long as I have known her.  She is one of the most passionate, opinionated, fire-breathingly political people that I know.  It seemed right to dedicate this piece to her.

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

DL: I am very excited about this concert.  My piece uses music to explore a moment in American political history.  What more fitting group should play it than the American Composers Orchestra?

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Berkeley Symphony EarShot Under Construction New Music Readings Composer Spotlight – Composer Nicholas Omiccioli

Composer Nicholas Omiccioli 
Tapping into his roots in performing in heavy metal bands, composer Nicholas Omiccioli gives us a glimpse into his composition process for his latest work, burning, and also what he is most looking forward to in participating in this weekend’s Berkeley Symphony EarShot Under Construction New Music Readings! 
American Composers Orchestra: What was the inspiration for your composition? How would you describe your composition process? 
Nicholas Omiccioli: My original goal was to write a piece inspired by my early musical roots playing guitar in heavy metal bands. As the piece developed, the literal translation of what I was going for turned more abstract. While I chose to forgo adding a drum kit and metal-style riffs, the tempo of the piece is still extremely fast and has an aggressive edge. Alternatively, moments of repose and atmospheric-like textures made their way into the work, offering more of a relaxed feel.
In a nutshell, my compositional process begins with improvisation, score study, and a considerable amount of time thinking before I write any music. Most of the time, I know what I want so my improvisations are guided to fine-tuning the raw material. After arriving at a handful of motives, melodies, chords, pitch content, and a formal outline, I jot ideas down and work out more substantial sections. While I try to always start at the beginning of a piece, it is not always the case. I plan extensively about where I want to go with the material and set up a number of processes to help accomplish those goals. By this time, I have probably discovered something new about the piece, or I change a parameter—such as a motive, theme, or pitch content—and typically start the entire process over again. This step takes the longest to figure out because I find myself at a fork in the road with just about everything I write. What path do I want to take? Do I have enough time and/or technique to take this path or should I go with what I know works? Once I have decided on a direction, the music essentially writes itself. After I notate the piece, I print it and re-notate it all again. This is when I fine-tune and hopefully correct all of my mistakes.
For burning, rather than deciding on which path to take, I took both of them.
ACO: Since the selection of your work for the Berkeley Symphony EarShot Under Construction New Music Readings, how have you further developed your piece in preparation for the readings? 
NO: I chose to write a new piece for the Berkeley Symphony. All the material is fresh and has not been recycled from other works. The two-and-a-half months I had to arrive at a draft was spent frantically writing as much material as I could. Because the tempo of my piece is insanely fast, there are a ridiculous number of notes. This reading, therefore, will be the deciding factor in how the work develops over the next few months in preparing for the May run-through.  
ACO: What do you hope to get out of this experience of having your piece read by the Berkeley Symphony and in working with the mentor-composers? 
NO: For me, having the chance to hear a work in progress live is an incredible advantage when writing a new piece. I hope that this opportunity for me to experiment outside of my comfort zone will help me grow as a composer and affect future decisions I make. These can include taking more—or even less—risks and having a better grasp on what works and what does not. The feedback from the mentor-composers, as well as comments from the other composition participants, musicians, and conductor will have a significant impact on how I make final preparations
ACO: What are you most looking forward to in participating in these New Music Readings? 
NO: I'm looking forward to the entire overall experience! I'm excited to get to know Joana Carneiro and the musicians of the Berkeley Symphony. It is incredible that they've offered their time to help out so many young composers in developing pieces over the years, and I'm humbled to be a part of it. I'm also looking forward to meeting the other composers and hearing their music, as well as working with mentor-composers Robert Beaser and Edmund Campion. It also goes without saying that I can't wait to hear these two excerpts from my piece, which have all but taken over my life since October!
ACO: What would you like to say to other composers who may be interested in applying to future New Music Readings? 
NO: As I tell all of my students, apply, apply, apply! This program promises to be a great experience for developing a new orchestral work, especially if you have not had much experience writing for orchestra or the opportunity.