Thursday, July 23, 2009

A great experience

Just a quick note to say how much I learned from the Earshot readings with the CSO. I am still sorting through all of the feedback from the mentor composers, conductors, and orchestra musicians, and thinking hard about how to apply all of this information to my next orchestral piece!

I am so thankful for the amazing support we had at the readings. The organization of the readings was pretty much flawless, so special thanks to everyone who made that happen. Specifically, I'd like to thank the ACO folks (Michael Geller, John Glover, Jenny Kampmeier, and Lyn Liston), Ed Harsh from Meet the Composer, Alberto Gutierrez and Jessie Arian from the CSO, and of course the musicians of the CSO!

I thought Robert Beaser, Derek Bermel, and Roberto Sierra were really impressive - I knew they were very good composers, but I was grateful for their thoughtful analysis/criticism of the pieces, which is not always guaranteed with "well-known" composers.

I can hardly imagine more dedicated conductors than David Gier and Fergus Macleod. It was a pleasure working with Fergus on my piece, and I am still pondering some of the advice/comments that both conductors made about the four pieces, and about writing for the orchestra in general.

Finally, thanks to Angel, Jeremy and Yotam! Though all four of us seem to be quite different aesthetically, I also feel a "kinship" with you. I enjoyed getting to know your pieces, and am looking forward to hearing more of your music!

-Tim Sullivan

Saturday, July 18, 2009


So I think that I survived the Earshot readings with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. I made it to Chicago for some decompression (via a summer rock festival) and I feel lighter and heavier at the same time. The reason that I feel lighter is because the readings are over, but I feel heavier due to a sense of accomplishment and knowledge gained.

Firstly I want to thank (in no particular order) Lyn, Michael, John, Roberto, Robert, Derek, Ed, Delta David, Fergus, and the performers and staff of the CSO for such an immensely gratifying experience. Although my piece was completed two years ago, the reading sessions finally provided the necessary opportunity to learn what I needed to learn. I was successful with some of my ideas and visions, and others left me flat on my face. Ironically (or ironically not?), it was the adherence to my ideas with a ham fist and vise-grip that caused the most problems.

That leads to my assessment of the nature of what ACO and Earshot are trying to accomplish. The least successful elements of my piece were the result of relying too much on my mind's ear and my ideology. The orchestra is a living, breathing, imperfect organism, and writing for orchestra requires skill, preparedness, and efficiency. Although imagination, sincerity and humanity are what I value the most in art, I learned firsthand that these facets must be focused and distilled properly with such a large and varied ensemble. If modern orchestral music is to evolve, then composers must have room to grow through hearing their music. So hats off to Earshot: we need you now more than ever!

Lastly, I want to thank Angel Lam, Tim Sullivan and Yotam Haber for their support. It was quite humbling (after all, humble pie is the very best flavor) to be chosen to participate with three incredibly talented, kind, interesting and supportive people. I felt a strong kinship with them and am quite floored to be one of their peers.

Oh, and let's not forget Jessie for her selfless early morning airport runs. She deserves a medal.

Bye Denver!

-Jeremy Podgursky

1. Jeremy Podgursky applauds the orchestra at the close of reading his work Our Bliss, It Comes in Waves.

Feeling the Love

It all seemed to happen so fast once it got started. For some time now, the ACO staff has been getting ready for the EarShot/Colorado Symphony New Music Readings. First there were the 180 scores that arrived in the office. Then there was the announcement about the four winners, followed by all sorts of detailed preparatory activities, followed by packing and getting to the airport to come out here to Denver.
What is truly wonderful about this is just how much all the work was worth it. First of all, there is the Colorado Symphony Orchestra who took on this tremendous project. They are a fantastic ensemble, and to have them embrace this initiative and offer the Readings is another reason to have more hope for the future of new music. And when I hear conductors David Gier and Fergus Macleod, mentor composers Derek Bermel, Robert Beaser, Roberto Sierra, VP for Artistic Planning Alberto Gutierrez, and Meet The Composer’s president Ed Harsh all supporting the four composers and genuinely wanting to help, it feels like we are indeed a community.
On Wednesday, after we arrived, we held a session primarily about promoting one’s music. It turned out that the question “how do I promote my music without offending the people I’m promoting it to” is still a hurdle for composers. (It’s good to know that composers care.) All of the folks listed above and a few others in the room did their best to convince these four that they can do it and offered “insider” advice on how to go about it. And if the advice is something the composers feel they can follow through on, I look forward to seeing what these four creative minds come up with.
-Lyn Liston, Director of Marketing, Education, and Outreach, American Composers Orchestra
1. Tim Sullivan (composer) and Fergus Macleod (conductor) review Tim's score before the second reading of his piece Polychrome.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Mad Music Part 3: Angel Lam

Derek Bermel and Angel Lam take a break from the post-readings party hosted by Colorado Symphony to talk shop about Angel's work In Search of Seasons...

Reflections on a crazy day

Wow. What a long, exciting, stressful, and rewarding day. I thought all of the readings went pretty well, and the orchestra sounded simply fabulous! Working and talking through my piece with Fergus was great, and I am anxious to see if the small adjustments we made will be successful. The feedback on all of the pieces from conductors, players and mentor composers was really amazing - even if I didn't agree with everything that was said, it was great to hear so many different perspectives, and some things really resonated with me. I'm excited to hear all of the pieces again tomorrow!

-Tim Sullivan

1. Tim Sullivan making corrections and adjustments to his work following the first day of the reading.

Mad Music 2 with Jeremy Podgursky

Derek is back with Mad Music Part 2. Here he talks with composer Jeremy Podgursky immediately following his first read-through of Our Bliss, it Comes in Waves. Check it out...

after the first reading

No train-wrecks, thankfully, but lots of rhythmic issues, all my fault. David Gier was patient and quickly worked through untangling those knots. We lost a good 10 minutes on issues that could have been resolved had I been more careful with simplifying my rhythmic notation, but once the CSO grasped what I intended, they rocked hard.

-Yotam Haber

1. Delta David Gier conducting the Colorado Symphony Orchestra.

Thoughts from Ed Harsh...

We're lucky to have Ed Harsh, president of Meet The Composer, with us for these readings. Aside from giving time for individual consultations with each of the particiapnt composers in this reading, he's also tweeting about his experience hearing each of these new works as they roar through the hall. You can follow him here:
Or follow our hashtag for the event: #ESCOread

Here are a few of his reactions from hearing Jeremy Podgursky's Our Bliss, It Comes in Waves conducted by Delta David Gier:

-Pungent brass and bell scrambles vs. silences. Sustained strings transmute to smears of sliding color
-Shimmer and scramble again, two restrained roars. Chroma and economy
Delta David Gier on podium: an image of assurance and commitment. Attending to details, elegantly bringing out the music

20 minutes before go-time

Just heard Jeremy, Tim, and Angel's pieces read -- all were incredible, diverse, and beautifully (actually, miraculously) read by the CSO. Now we are on a 20 minute break and then it's my turn before the firing squad.

-Yotam Haber

1. fellow composer Jeremy Podgursky looks over Yotam's score Forward Ornament as the orchestra prepares to read it for the first time.

Mad Music! Part 1

Minutes before the first reading, Derek Bermel talks with composer Tim Sullivan and conductor Fergus Macleod about the preparations before heading into day 1 of the readings session...

And Away We Go...

It has actually started. After many long flights and grappling with time changes and altitude (this is the mile-high city after all...) I'm sitting in Boettcher Concert Hall listening to the orchestra's first pass through of Angel Lam's piece In Search of Seasons. Aside from the fact that the music unfolding is delicate, sensitive, and just plain lovely to hear, there is a palpable energy in the air. The musicians, the composers, all focusd on this very concentrated moment, the first stab at a new work.
Imagine what it felt like the first time Mahler threw a downbeat on his first "Titan" Symphony. Or the moment when Beethoven first heard three brash E-flat major chords blared out by an orchestra as he gave a sucker-punch to the symphonic world. Or better yet, don't. Come by tomorrow morning and hear and feel it for yourself. There is an undeniable energy to the first run-through of a new work... a terror, a joy... let's face it, it's just pretty darn cool.

-John Glover, Ops Manager

1. Delta David Gier leads the Colorado Symphony Orchestra.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

You Can't Miss the Bear

Well, here we are. Finally in Denver for the readings! After arriving last night, I've been spending the morning working with the folks at the Colorado Symphony and preparing for everyone's arrival. It is sort of wonderful how many different folks are descending on Denver today. All of the composers (both our young participants and the mentor composers who will be giving them critiques and guidance throughout the three days), industry folks like Ed Harsh from Meet the Composer and Michael Geller from ACO/EarShot, conductors David Gier and Fergus Macleod, and of course there are all of the hard working people here at the CSO who have so generously taken part in this reading. And then of course there are the students and new music enthusiasts in the area who are coming out of the woodwork to observe a seminar this evening and also the public readings on Friday morning at the concert hall downtown.

While I was trying to find my way to the performing arts complex (which is so fantastic) from my hotel, I got directions from a few folks. The consistent bit of information was "You can't miss the bear..." Indeed. On my way to the hall, walking down 14th street, I passed what might be my favorite piece of public art ever. I suppose he's holding up the convention center?
Looking forward to three terrific days!

-John Glover

Looking Forward to the Readings

I'm in Milwaukee, WI, visiting family for the last four days, spending every moment I can submerged in cool Lake Michigan. I Flew in from Rome, Italy, where I'm living now, on July 10th, and am flying to Denver tomorrow morning. After reading the blog posts from my fellow composers invited for the readings, I am relieved to hear that I'm not the only one that has nightmares about part extraction and the spectacular train wrecks that could happen....
I wrote this piece in May 2009, at the MacDowell Colony. I had just started reading Italo Calvino's fascinating American Lessons - the Norton Lectures that he wrote for Harvard - and was inspired to begin a series of works based on each of the lectures, which I believe are universal, not just for writers.
For me, the most nerve-wracking part of launching a piece into the world is the first time I hear musicians rehearse it. Sometimes performers don't like to have a composer present at a first rehearsal, and I completely empathize. It's very difficult to make sense of a fresh score, never played before.
What is a modern, major orchestra like, I ask myself. Is there still a sense of the old totalitarian regime that once reigned under Toscanini? If the 4th desk second violin player has a problem, does he whisper it to the 1st desk 2nd violin, who whispers it to the concertmaster, who gingerly asks the conductor? What will happen if I want to say something to the orchestra? Will I be able to?
I know I won't sleep tonight, nervous and excited for the adventure to come. I'll see you all in Denver!
Thank you to all the hardworkin', fantastic folks at ACO and in Colorado who have made this amazing event possible -- I am really honored to have been selected.


Thursday, July 9, 2009

The new work

I'm honored to be able to take part in the EarShot Colorado Symphony Orchestra Reading. This is a very exciting opportunity because I cannot wait to hear this piece come alive.

This work has many meaningful memories for me, and it was a joy to complete this work as I reminisce on the beauty of seasonal changes and the unforgettable events and people that are associated with these seasons. Here are my original inspirations behind the work:

"I was born in Hong Kong and moved to Huntington Beach, California as a child. Strictly speaking, these two cities never gave me any true feelings of the seasons. Recently, I had the opportunity to further my graduate studies in the American Northeast. There, I finally experienced the real delight of seasonal changes.

Should I tell you some of my favorites?

Winter is always a mystery. Star-shaped, diamond-shaped and square-shaped snowflakes fly like mist in the red sky; they explode into a wild dance in the silent air. The long stormy nights often send me into deep thoughts. The most memorable moment is closing the door to the harsh cold world behind me and being embraced by the warmth of home. The joy is beyond what words can describe.

The end of winter is marked by the first roar of thunder from the distant sky. It is Spring's thunder--her awakening call. Suddenly the earth cracks and splits, the whole world turns into a running fragrant stream. We must hurry, the wonders of the world are waiting for our discovery.

In autumn, trees one by one catch on a fiery red. The sky is crisp and the air is light. I like to take a break while the northern wind is still friendly, to travel into the mountains looking for bears.

Summer is most mesmerizing. I lay in nature's never-ending greens while I watch the afternoon sun shine through the leaves. The southern breeze massages my lazy soul and I slowly drift into a dream. I would spoil myself and nap until the street lamps light. I love summer long.

As time goes by, I begin to understand more about the seasons. Seasonal change is a witness to our lives. The more splendid the scenery, the more romantic the atmosphere, the more details you know of their stories, the easier you feel lonely. We desperately need someone with whom to share and witness these beautiful moments together.

Occasionally, I come back to Hong Kong. It is busy, noisy and crowded, as always. However, the nature of this city keeps me high-spirited.

During these years, Hong Kong has changed a bit, somewhat, somehow. She has added to herself a firework season – firework festival every night at the harbor.

If you are planning to enjoy the fireworks tonight, don't forget to bring along that special someone, somebody to share the joy of the season with you – to be a witness to the glory in your life.

Have you found your favorite season yet?"

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Hey everybody-

We're very excited to welcome you to the Earshot readings in Colorado! It was inspiring to see so many great scores submitted; it's a shame they can't all be part of the readings. But we're very excited to hear these new works come to life, and we're all looking forward to two days of intense music-making and compositional growth.

Derek Bermel

Monday, July 6, 2009

Christmas in July

Coordinating the logistics and practicalities of performances and readings of new music can be exhilarating... it can also be quite a bit of intense and occasionally frustrating work. All of the detail work of coordinating schedules, tracking parts, making sure bowings are handled, can sometimes - for a brief second - distract from the excitement of what it is that is actually happening.
There is one part of this job that has consistently been fun, however. Once we've determined the selected participants I get the job of calling them to tell them they've been selected. This is indescribably fun. It is a little bit like telling someone they've just won a new car or the lotto. I've had every reaction from people when I've given them news to let them know they've been selected: ranging from stunned silence or quiet graciousness to out and out laughing/screaming/yelling. Our develolpment director once said to me "I'm so jealous that you get to do that! I want to call them! It's like you get to be Santa Claus for these composers!"
Im pretty ok with this image. Merry Christmas in July.

-John Glover, Ops Manager

Friday, July 3, 2009


Less than two weeks now until the CSO/EarShot readings, and I am admittedly having difficulty concentrating on anything else! I somehow managed to survive part extraction…is there anything more stressful, tedious and ultimately exhilarating than preparing orchestral parts? Even a week later, I still have irrational nightmares that a different measure was left out of every single part, and that somehow I failed to notice this in spite of multiple proof-readings! Alas, sometimes I have to open the files in Sibelius just to make sure…
My experiences with this piece are remarkably similar to what Jeremy Podgursky described in his post: it is my composition dissertation, which I worked on for about a year, and I have often wondered if it would ever receive a performance or reading. Though I have written other pieces for small orchestra, this was my first completed composition for full symphony orchestra, and though it was strenuous, I enjoyed working on it more than any other piece in recent memory.
I wasn’t required to write an orchestral work for my dissertation, and many people suggested that I write something more “practical.” While I understood the risks, I felt like it was necessary – I love orchestral music, and had an urge to write something big (relatively speaking, anyway). Upon completion, I dutifully submitted the piece to reading sessions and competitions, often with a MIDI recording (that I spent way too much time on considering how poorly it represents the piece!). After several rejections and a couple of honorable mentions, I figured the piece had just about run its course without a performance…and then the EarShot readings were announced!
I suppose at this point I am quite biased, but even back in November I thought the EarShot readings were a great idea. First off, I was amazed when I was told there was no need to send another score since I had already applied to the ACO Underwood readings – just fill out a brief online application, and voila, it’s done! In fact, it was so easy I completely forgot about it until I read about the Memphis readings after the fact! When John Glover called about the Colorado readings, I think my first reaction was something like a combination of disbelief (really?) and relief (I’m actually going to hear this piece?), and then as it settled in I started to get really excited. Like Jeremy said, I feel very fortunate to be selected.
Well, I better try to get back to work…looking forward to July 16-17!
-Tim Sullivan

Thursday, July 2, 2009

First thoughts

Being chosen for the Earshot/CSO readings has already provided enough excitement for me that I might be too tired to actually go to Colorado. The piece that I submitted was my masters thesis, finished in 2007 and cleared of two years worth of dust before being stuffed in an envelope. I figured before I received the call that I would probably never get to hear the piece, so I guess that my internal naysayer doesn't believe in the concept of delayed returns. Needless to say, I feel incredibly lucky to have been chosen to participate.

And I surely could not ask for a better potential learning experience with regards to composing for the orchestra. To work alongside experienced composers, conductors, and a seasoned, professional orchestra will help me understand the mistakes I undoubtedly made when I composed the piece (I have spent the last two years looking for someone else to blame, but no one ever came to mind). All of this mixed with an altitude of 5000 feet will surely leave permanent imprints, so I have ordered a crash helmet with a built-in powdered wig.

Part of my own personal whirlwind surrounding this opportunity has been the preparation of the parts for performance. There was something strange about going through the score and the parts again, a re-connection to what I was experiencing when I was actually writing the piece. I made a promise to myself that I would not edit any of the content of the piece while extracting the parts, and I am glad that I stuck to it. Maybe I am getting a little too mystical or indirectly acknowledging the existence of elves, but I feel like I would have tainted something by altering what I composed back then (kind of like revving up the DeLorean to try and create a slightly less frustrating Senior Prom memory). I am certainly not the only composer that has experienced such a connection whilst editing, so share and share alike (c'mon folks: we're bloggin' here).

Anyway, mine computer arm tireth. T-minus fifteen days. Thanks so much to John Glover, ACO, the CSO, and everyone else that made this possible. More to come.

by Jeremy Podgursky