[Ed. note: The first concert program of the New York Philharmonic's new contemporary music series, Contact, will be presented in two different venues later this week—Thursday, December 17, 2009 at Symphony Space and Saturday, December 19, 2009 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The concert, under the direction of Philharmonic Composer-in-Residence Magnus Lindberg, will feature world premiere performances of pieces by Marc-André Dalbavie, Arthur Kampela, Lei Liang, and Arlene Sierra. We asked Arlene Sierra to write about the experience for us.—FJO]
Being commissioned by the New York Philharmonic as part of their new contemporary music initiative, Contact, has been a huge honor and thrill. I’ve been attending the Phil’s performances with my family since I was a little kid and I remember my teacher Jacob Druckman talking about his experiences writing for the New York Philharmonic in the ’80s. The memories and associations I have are lifelong and deeply meaningful, they shaped who I am and how I began composing, so this project is in many ways a homecoming.
I’ve been based in London for the past ten years, since finishing my doctorate at University of Michigan, and have had some great opportunities to come home to New York for performances before, but this is something new. Thanks to Music Director Alan Gilbert and Composer in Residence Magnus Lindberg, Contact and its composers are getting a fantastic new platform, with support and exposure that rarely if ever accompanies new music commissioning.
The result so far has been great, but also a little strange! I had my first rehearsal yesterday (more about that in a minute) and signed into Twitter this morning to find a series of new “tweets” posted about the session. I’ve also answered questions via the Contact Facebook page, recorded a interview video clip for the web site, and now of course I’m writing these words for NewMusicBox, all forms of promotion and exposure which are very new to our field, and pretty new in general, too. Being a thirtysomething myself, it feels natural and right, but I’m just old enough to remember (and to have heard from my teachers) how it was before. It’s really a joy to see these tools of today put into use for the music of today, helping more to discover the music written for our own time.
Rehearsal involved two run throughs and a few segments to line up the many and various layers of my new piece Game of Attrition. The piece features competitive duos between instruments and sections, and it’s going to take time to get all the balances and nuances right. Magnus Lindberg clearly knows the score well and is working hard to navigate the twists and turns of tempo and textural changes.
When having the materials prepared, we were asked for more than a dozen study scores, which is pretty unusual. When I got to the rehearsal I was impressed and gratified to see why this was necessary: Even though Game of Attrition is for a chamber orchestra of twenty players, everyone was studying both part and score as though they were playing a solo or small chamber piece. The musicians, even in a first rehearsal, clearly had a strong grasp of what their part meant in the whole, and worked to play accordingly. Now I am seeing the conviction behind the New York Phil’s new music commissioning: These musicians are ready and eager to grasp what is new, and to make it their own.
An award-winning American composer based in London, Arlene Sierra grew up in Miami and New York and studied at Oberlin College, Yale University, and the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. In 2009 her work was the subject of a Miller Theatre Composer Portrait, and the New York Philharmonic commissioned Game of Attrition, with Magnus Lindberg conducting. Upcoming projects include a concerto Art of War for the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and Huw Watkins, piano, a first opera Faustine in development with Opera Genesis at Covent Garden, and a string quartet for the Carducci Quartet.