Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Day 3: Benjamin Taylor - Underwood New Music Readings: From the Composer

DAY 3: Thoughts on Underwood New Music Readings
by Benjamin Taylor
This morning's session with the mentor composers and George Manahan was an informal time for us composers to get feedback on our pieces.  This was an honest, open time where the mentor composers equally praised my work and gave me wonderful critique.  I found it fascinating that in many cases, they were able to articulate a problem in my piece that I had previously only felt on a gut level and not been able to put my finger on.  I appreciated that they not only pointed out problems, but were also quick to provide possible solutions to help resolve issues the piece was having.  I'm coming away from this morning's session with a much clearer outlook on orchestration, harmony, form, texture, counterpoint and "seizing musical opportunities."  After the session, and a few pictures, we said our goodbyes.  I think it is fair to say that it felt like we'd been together for much more than 2 days.  It felt more like a few weeks!  Making music together and talking about our music together on a deep, intimate level has forged friendships of admiration and respect among all of us who participated.  I'm super motivated to go and write great music!  

Day 2 & 3: Pin Hsin Lin - Underwood New Music Readings: From the Composer

Day 2 & 3 - Thoughts on Underwood New Music Readings
by Pin Hsin Lin

Christina Jensen PR
Publicity and Promotion Discussion
The second morning, June 2, 2012, consisted of a professional development workshop comprising of a presentation on “Intellectual Property and Copyright Law” by Jim Kendrick, a summary on “Engraving and Self-Publishing” by Bill Holab, an overview of “Support Structures for Composers” by New Music USA president Ed Harsh, and a course in “Publicity and Promotion” by Christina Jensen. This workshop provided useful information for us as we move into becoming professional composers. Writing good music is just half of the process, we need to know how to effectively promote ourselves.

Afterward, my fellow composers and I met with the maestro Manahan again before the run-through concert that evening. In Saturday night's second reading session, ACO sounded even better than yesterday! My fellow composers and I briefly introduced our works before the maestro rehearsed a few spots and performed a full run-through. All of the great qualities of each work were well pronounced today. My colleagues and I were very happy with the results. After the concert, we went to a reception to celebrate our successful performance and to meet other ACO alumni.

Finally, the third day, June 3, 2012, opened with a panel discussion of issues relevant to young composers by our illustrious mentor composers and maestro. This time they focused on our music and composing process, which I never learned before.
George Manahan and Pin Hsin Lin

I would like to express my deep gratitude to American Composers Orchestra, maestro George Manahan, our mentor composers (Bob Beaser, Steven Stucky, Derek Bermel, and Melinda Wagner), and the other participant composers for this precious experience. I sincerely hope the Underwood Readings program will continue to grow in the future. Because of this wonderful program, many individual creative and personal voices can be seen!

Day 2: Benjamin Taylor - Underwood New Music Readings: From the Composer

Day 2 - Thoughts on Underwood New Music Readings
by Benjamin Taylor

Benjamin Taylor Explains his piece,
Leaving White
, to the audience.
The energy and vibe of the performance-reading was wonderful!  The orchestra read our pieces this evening to a sold-out audience.  We composers all sat in the front, taking our turns giving a brief introduction to our works, and then taking the hot-seat during the performance.  Each piece spoke with a clear voice, and each was distinct and unique.  During the intermission and after the concert, I enjoyed talking with members of the audience, all of which were very complimentary and supportive of the music they heard.  I especially thought that the soloists did an incredible job in my piece; Michael Roth on violin, Stephen Taylor on oboe, Stephen Hart on Clarinet, Laura Koepke on bassoon, and Ben Herman on timpani.  Working with this orchestra, George Manahan, and the mentor composers has been an experience worth years studying composition at a university!

Day 1: Benjamin Taylor - Underwood New Music Readings: From the Composer

Day 1 of ACO's Underwood New Music Readings
by Benjamin Taylor

Taylor Foumai Stucky
Benjamin Taylor, Michael-Thomas Foumai & Steven Stucky
Day 1 - Underwood New Music Readings
Wow! What a whirlwind of a day! Today's session was a serious high-octane ride. The day started at 8:00 a.m. meeting with composers Robert Beaser, Derek Bermel, Steven Stucky, and Melinda Wagner, ACO Executive Director Michael Geller, and ACO operations staff Greg Evans and Jules Lai. Enjoying a nice breakfast, we made introductions and then met individually with the composers and conductor George Manahan. While my meetings were only a few minutes long, they were very useful to clarify a few spots I thought would give the orchestra trouble, as well as answer a few quick questions. I wasn't feeling nervous until we sat down in front of the orchestra. Wow, what a sight to sit five feet away from all that acoustic power! Peter Fahey's piece, Impressions, opened the session, and then my piece, Leaving White, was second. Sitting in the "hot seat" (directly behind George Manahan and between Steven Stucky and Robert Beaser) was certainly intimidating, yet at the same time, it was reassuring to feel their support. On the whole, the orchestra did an incredible job sight-reading my piece. I made many notes while listening to the first full run-through. They then went back and did the second half of the piece again with huge improvement. I kept getting those "oh-my-goodness-I-can't-believe-this" chills. I couldn't stop smiling! So much of the piece was working even better than I had envisioned. We then enjoyed listening to Pin Hsin Lin's piece, Symphony No. 3, Michael-Thomas Foumai's piece, Concerto for Orchestra, Ryan Chase's piece, The Light Fantastic, and Paul Kerekes' piece, timber. After working with the orchestra, we spent the afternoon receiving excellent feedback from a team of musicians from the orchestra as well as from the mentor composers. This evening, I'm preparing my errata sheet, which allows me to apply some of the feedback I received today. I can't wait to hear the piece again tomorrow!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Day 1: Pin Hsin Lin - Underwood New Music Readings: From the Composer

Day 1 - Thoughts on the Underwood New Music Readings
-- by Pin Hsin Lin, participant composer

Day one of ACO’s Underwood New Music Readings has ended. What a wonderful day full of professional and helpful activities! I am in my hotel room reviewing the feedback about my piece from distinguished mentor composers, the wonderful maestro, and experienced orchestra principals and librarian. Here is what happened since yesterday when I flew to New York City from my current city, Champaign, IL:

The night before the readings, my fellow composers and I participated in a welcome reception where we had the chance to meet ACO board members, ACO Executive Director Michael Geller, and ACO Development Director Barbara Burch. At this wonderful party, I learned about ACO’s vision and mission and what’s going on in the new music industry in the United States.

I also had the chance to meet with mentor composers, Robert Beaser, Steven Stucky, Melinda Wagner, and Derek Bermel, and maestro George Manahan. In this short meeting, I briefly described what I want to express through my music and what I would like to learn from this reading event. Then they shared with me their comments about my music.

During the working rehearsal, the 1st reading, I met the distinguished composer Aaron Jay Kernis and shared our composing experiences. The audience showed their enthusiasm and support to the young composer participants. They often came to us and introduced themselves. The concert hall was full of learning and communication, which encouraged me to want to write more new music in the future.

After the reading, we met with the mentor composers and conductor again, along with orchestra principals for a “NUTS AND BOLTS” session, where we discussed the effectiveness of different notations, formal concerns, score engravings, and compositional issues. The comments of maestro Manahan and mentor composers were very professional and right on point.

As a composer, my creating and orchestration chops are only half the story. How composers present themselves is important. Further, having well prepared, well thought-out scores and individual part scores are essential parameters for a successful work.

This was an amazing experience I will benefit from for my entire compositional career. The greatest lessons in composing orchestral work are learned during the process of having music performed, especially read by top-notch musicians like ACO. I also learned a lot from my fellow composers’ works.