Friday, March 11, 2016

Orchestra Underground: Eastern Wind Composer Spotlight - Saad Haddad

Composer Saad Haddad is in his last year the Juilliard School, pursuing a Master of Music Composition with John Corigliano, but already he has been performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Columbus Symphony, Milwaukee Symphony, and American Composers Orchestra. Saad is a first-generation Arab-American who combines the influence of Arab music with a knowledgeable use of music technology in his compositions. His ACO commission Manarah, which will be premiered at Orchestra Underground: Eastern Wind, April 1 at Carnegie Hall's Zankel, uses traditional performance practices of Arabic musicians such as microtonal intervallic relationships, glissandi, and unconventional changes in vibrato, and is scored for two digitally processed antiphonal trumpets and orchestra.

Saad was kind enough to answer some questions about his piece for SoundAdvice.

Composer Saad Haddad

American Composers Orchestra: Tell us how you approached integrating the music of your heritage into a contemporary orchestra setting.
Saad Haddad: Before I elaborate on this, I first have to mention another one of my orchestral works, Kaman Fantasy, which highlights the orchestra's string section in particular, mimicking the embellishments, vibrato, asynchronous bowing, and microtonal language most commonly found in the string section performance practice of traditional Arabic ensembles. In Manarah, my approach has less to do with the strings (although I do employ some of the effects from Kaman Fantasy, but to a lesser extent) and more to do with the winds, in respect to embouchure fluctuations and dense ornamentation in the woodwinds and an insistent reliance on the brass section to provide the microtonal language borrowed from the maqam scales. So far, my approach with percussion has been to steer clear of instruments like the tambourine or the darbakah, which I think don't give the listener a chance to draw from their own aural observations on where and how my influences are being incorporated; they're much too immediate for me. Instead, I use percussion that's commonly used in symphony orchestras today like the timpani, bass drum, tom-toms, cymbals, and tam-tam, but in ways that might suggest an outsider's perceptive.

ACO: Manarah uses two digitally processed trumpets which will be placed in the left and right balconies. What can you tell us about the digital processing and the sound created? Will the trumpet "sound" be recognizable?
SD: The trumpet sounds will definitely be recognizable (I hope!). What I'm doing is altering the sounds of the trumpets live onstage -- so you'll hear the live sound of the trumpets just as if they were playing normally (because they are!), but you'll also simultaneously hear their sound altered through a patch my electronics teacher, Mari Kimura, and I developed through a program called MAX. I view it like programming code, but for music. Every piece of 'code' that goes into the patch for this piece is absolutely needed -- if even one small part of the sequence of events goes wrong, it can prove detrimental to the piece. So there of course is an element of holding your breath hoping everything will work, and I've been very lucky in past electroacoustic performances of my other works to be able to anticipate what might go wrong ahead of time, so we'll see what happens. In terms of what you'll actually hear coming out of the speakers, well you'll have to come to the concert to find out!

Circled numbers in the MAX Opt. (Operator) staff indicate coinciding electronic events notated in the Tpt. (Trumpet in C) 1 MAX and/or Tpt. 2 MAX staves. The wavy crescendo and diminuendo-like figures above the Tpt. 2 staff indicate varying degrees of wide and fast vibrato from the live trumpet player.

ACO: The digitally processed trumpets will employ Arabic musical techniques, such as microtonal intervallic relationships, glissandi, and unconventional changes in vibrato. Does the digital processing enhance or mask these Arabic influences?
SD: I knew I wanted to use live electronics, but I wanted to do it in a way that would complement the personal research I've been doing acoustically on Western instruments -- that is, finding ways to incorporate traditional Arabic performance techniques onto instruments typically used in a symphony orchestra. That's the genesis of all the music I've been writing for the past few years. Now when it comes to live electronics, the same concept holds true. What can I do to bring out traditional Middle Eastern peculiarities through an instrument like the trumpet which is not easily capable of producing the effects that I'm seeking to hear? Well, that's when live processing comes in to play. That's the long answer. The short answer is I do hope the electronics enhance my influences!

ACO: Is there established notation for the Arabic techniques you used in the piece? Or did you have to invent your own ways of communicating them on the page?
SD: I've been kind of making up the notation for these techniques as each piece sees fit, although I do try to relate as much of the notation as I can to typical Western notation practice, especially in an orchestral context. Below is one example that I've developed with a couple oboe and bassoon players at Juilliard in regards to what I call 'embouchure fluctuation'. This kind of technique is influenced by the discrete sounds produced from the 'mizmar,' a double reed instrument from Egypt, and the ney, a flute-like instrument used all over the Middle East. In Manarah, this notation finds its way in the flute, clarinet, oboe, and bassoon.

The noteheads above the single lined ossia staff indicate to normalize embouchure for the given note indicated in the staff; the noteheads below the single lined ossia staff indicate to flatten the given note in the staff by a half-step with the embouchure.

ACO: What are you looking forward to about the performance of Manarah at Carnegie Hall by the American Composers Orchestra?
SD: I'm really just looking forward to finally hearing how all these sounds work (or not work!) put all together. My process involves a lot of workshopping with musicians as I'm creating the music itself. I've recorded several chunks of this piece already with friends at Juilliard who were very gracious with their time and who've made the process of discovery so rewarding for me. So I've heard bits and pieces of it, with and without the electronics, and to me they all seem to work at least in my head. The ACO's rehearsals and premiere of the piece is the final goal though, and I really hope that all that work pays off in the end! Like with anything else I've written, there are always things that don't go as well as I would have hoped that I refine for the next time around, whether it's the way I notated something on the page, or the orchestration choices themselves; there are also rather pleasant surprises too that I'm of course elated to experience when they do happen! I'm looking forward to finding out what both of these are in Manarah and taking this opportunity as a learning experience for me as I figure out who I am as an artist.

Hear the world premiere of Saad's Manarah at Orchestra Underground: Eastern Wind - April 1, 2016 at 7:30pm at Carnegie Hall's Zankel. More details and tickets here.

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