2009 Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute Blog: How Can We Keep This Going?
The morning starts off very early. I head to Orchestra Hall with a short list of final ideas for our last rehearsal. Adrenaline from concert day giddiness makes up for the accumulative lack of sleep, and I feel confident the day will progress smoothly. Among the various adjustments, I need to add a few notes to a clarinet part. Heading to the Green Room, I see Aaron and he urges me to go and deal with the changes during the morning presentations.
As I walk on stage, I see Paul Gunther setting out parts. He greets me and I explain my situation, which he says is not a problem. I head up to the library where he provides the necessary tools for his staff and I steady my hand to make the addition. I quickly work and finish just in time to make the beginning of the rehearsal.
The orchestra looks happy and rested today. They rehearse in concert order, starting with Angel Lam’s piece In Search of Seasons, a colorful work that fuses Chinese sensibilities with western harmony and minimalist gestures. After a few spot checks, they move on to my piece, Incendio. Since the orchestra is in dress rehearsal mode, the time for each composer is compressed and we must make concise recommendations from this point forward. Upon hearing the first few minutes, I begin to relax because everything is coming together.
All of the recommendations from the day before sound good and I start to see that it will be a brilliant performance tonight. The middle sections of my piece, plateau like passages of bell-like sonorities, ring beautifully through the hall and move smoothly toward the reprise of the opening. To my delight, the performers and Osmo seem quite enthusiastic. I provide one comment to Osmo to raise the dynamics of the last phrase to punctuate the ending, and the rehearsal moves on to Roger Zare’s Aerodynamics. Roger’s piece appears to be coming together quite nicely, and the orchestra wraps up the session with a solid run-through of the piece.
Following the orchestra break, they start the second part of the rehearsal with Dessin no. 1 by Kathryn Salfelder. This peaceful composition adds contrast to the program, expressing a fondness for French lyricism, and cantabile string writing. The other pieces rehearsed in the afternoon, Fernando Buide’s Antiphones, Carl Schimmel’s Woolgatherer’s Chapbook and Shadows of the Infinite by Geoff Knorr sound great and the grand climax in Geoff’s piece will round out the concert nicely. The rehearsal and we head off for a brief lunch before our follow-up sessions with Osmo. His comments are supportive and come from a unique perspective that only an accomplished conductor and composer can possess. We discuss briefly future projects that I am working on and his impressions of my work.
The composers have a generous time to have dinner with family and friends who came to support them at the concert. I am so proud to have my fiancee, Maria Endrinal, and my both my parents, Robert and Jeannette Toppel, attend the concert tonight. Their support is really the main reason I compose music, and realizing my sentiments for them in my music is a natural part of being a composer. In fact, I noticed that many of the other composers also had guests attend, and it certainly provides an added boost of confidence that can only come from those who love you.
As the evening begins at Orchestra Hall, the excitement in the air is tangible. After a brief meeting in the green room with Aaron and our interviewer for the evening, Allison Young, we head down to a packed concert hall. This is truly a great feeling to see so many in attendance. As the orchestra plays piece after piece the energies of the ensemble, Maestro Vänskä, the audience continues well into the final bows of the composers.
I take a moment of reflection while walking back to the hotel a few hours later and I recall the question I presented in my first post: “How can we keep what we have here going?” I feel confident that tonight we have accomplished that. Tonight, we come together as a society of people who are excited to make “living” musics by bringing time, energy, money, and attention to the importance of our cultural identities encapsulates the importance of looking beyond oneself.
I am confident in the future of the Minnesota Orchestra, Aaron Jay Kernis, and Osmo Vänskä. Hopefully through this program, there will come new opportunities that question the “validity” of contemporary music-making.