Score!

If you’ve been following my weekly dispatches for the past few months, you’ll recall that I’ve been approaching a workshop wherein my piece for eleven instruments was to be rehearsed and played. You may also recall that the prospect of working with a sizable group for the first time in years had reduced me to a sniveling, tremulous wreck. Well, the workshop was last Wednesday, and I’m relieved to tell you that it was a complete success—a golden opportunity for the four student composers whose pieces were played, a chance for lively and stimulating discussion, an encouraging red-letter day for a music school still finding its footing, and, I hope, a collaboration that the players were able to take something away from as well.

Because it’s the players, of course, who made the occasion. The London Contemporary Orchestra is a relatively new arrival on the UK new music scene; it’s a flexible constellation of as many as 80 performers, mostly students or recent graduates from London’s major conservatories. This is a group to keep your eye on, especially if your eye is in the United Kingdom. Although the players who came all the way out to Uxbridge (the Arbutus of London, so to speak) were, by and large, on the younger end of the group’s roster, they absolutely exuded professionalism and musicianship. I suppose this shouldn’t be so surprising—after all, they joined the LCO because they’re passionate about contemporary music—but I was really impressed.

My piece was first on the chopping block for rehearsal; their initial run-through was much more complete than I’d anticipated. It helped, of course, that Brunel professor Peter Wiegold was holding the baton (actually a pencil, in this case). Peter’s experience and insight brought a lot of new depth to the piece and freed me up to listen and make notes in my score. When the performers raised issues or questions, we were able to get things sorted out quickly, and I learned that if you write an Eb in the first violin and D# in the second, you’ll be likely to hear two different pitches. This seems so obvious in retrospect.

Brunel postgraduates Yuko Ohara, Duncan MacLeod, and Tristan Rhys Williams supplied three distinct and compelling pieces as well; Ohara’s evocation of an electrocardiogram was frighteningly well-orchestrated and suffused with strange tension, and MacLeod’s piece began with improbable hocketing and concluded with an eerie, unhinged chorale. Williams’s piece asked the most of the performers in terms of non-traditional instrumental writing, incorporating a variety of string and wind techniques, piano preparations, and unusual percussion instruments, occasionally deployed in imitation of a reel-to-reel tape deck’s transport; the result was highly alienated but somehow equally touching.

I could go on—the LCO and my colleagues deserve all the praise I would heap upon them. For my part, I’m just relieved that the day passed with no major train wrecks, no embarrassing errors in the parts (well, there was a single bar of alto clef in the cello—never again!), and most importantly, nothing major in the piece that I want to change. To hear such a capable ensemble realize the instructions that I labored over with so much trepidation and be happy with the result? That’s the feeling that keeps me from giving up and getting a real job. That’s why I’m in this business.

3 thoughts on “Score!

  1. danvisconti

    if you write an Eb in the first violin and D# in the second, you’ll be likely to hear two different pitches. This seems so obvious in retrospect.

    I know, but it’s also one of those things that never seems to get brought up in orchestration books, though I can’t think of a good reason why it couldn’t be.

    Glad to hear your piece went so well–do you feel any of that is a result of any specific lessons you learned from that earlier performance you had posted about? (I recall you writing about one you didn’t feel particularly happy with some months ago).

    Reply
  2. colin holter

    do you feel any of that is a result of any specific lessons you learned from that earlier performance you had posted about?

    The biggest thing I felt I had to keep in mind was that the players have to be won over in order for the audience to be won over. Some of that is in the score – idiomatic writing, clear orchestration (minimizing “why am I even playing this?” situations), solid notation, etc. – and some is in the circumstances of the performance; the LCO does contemporary music because they like to, whereas many of the performers I was working with before were doing it because they had to get a certain number of credits to graduate. That’s an uphill battle no matter how you slice it.

    Reply
  3. philmusic

    The biggest thing I felt I had to keep in mind was that the players have to be won over in order for the audience to be won over.

    Good point Colin–the players are the audience.

    Phil Fried, Philfried.com

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Conversation and respectful debate is vital to the NewMusicBox community. However, please remember to keep comments constructive and on-topic. Avoid personal attacks and defamatory language. We reserve the right to remove any comment that the community reports as abusive or that the staff determines is inappropriate.