The 2009 Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute Blog: First Rehearsal Butterflies

We can hear the orchestra warming up through the monitors in the green room in Orchestra Hall. Everyone waits with excitement: this is the first rehearsal and really the first interaction with the amazing Minnesota Orchestra that has so graciously hosted us for the past few days. As a group, we head down to the hall and each of the seven composers begins to nervously fidget with their scores and papers. So much goes into writing an orchestral work, and the first rehearsal is where you confirm the accuracy of the parts and the strength of ideas.

I begin to think of all the possibilities that might transpire when the downbeat falls. Did I catch all the changes in the string parts? Are there any rogue computer notation gremlins that might threaten to take down the entire project? I remind myself of all the proof reading and checking completed prior to this moment, and the extra attention the materials received upon arriving, and begin to calm down.

Once the rehearsal begins our fears evaporate. This might be the best first rehearsal with a major orchestra. Osmo and the orchestra immediately put everyone at ease with their professional attitudes. I have certainly experienced situations where the composer quickly became an orchestral punching bag, but this is the exact opposite.

Each composer introduces his or her work (with more of us airing on the side of terse introductions), and off they go. The concert really is an embarrassment of riches, with so many great works on the program. At the moment it feels akin to eating a seven course dinner where every dish has generous portions of foie gras! (Maybe Anthony Bourdain should consider attending).

As the orchestra moves through each of the composers on the first rehearsal—Angel Lam, Roger Zare, Kathryn Salfelder, and myself—the orchestra starts to look and sound more comfortable with the music and the program. When the first rehearsal concludes, I am astonished to see so many smiling faces backstage. (The eye contact test, for those in the know.)

Concurrently we run interviews with Brian Newhause from MPR. This was a special moment for me, since I am such a fan of his work and what he does here in Minnesota. Since moving to Ithaca, New York for my doctoral studies a few years ago, I began to drive quite a bit because there is basically no other way to get around, (every major city is four hours away or more!) and I would listen to my public broadcasting station. Mr. Newhause’s programs are always my favorite, so to finally meet a radio personality face-to-face is kind of stunning, maybe because I only really know him by the sound ofhis voice.

Immediately after my interview, I am told by Lilly Schwartz that I must go to the University of Minnesota to pick up some percussion instruments for my piece. A regular guest player in the orchestra and percussion faculty member at the School of Music at U. of M., Fernando Meza, graciously found some additional percussion that we need.

It is a kind of code amongst percussionists to help each other whenever they need equipment. As we race towards the campus, we have only one hour to get the instruments and return to the concert hall, because I have a meeting with Osmo following the rehearsal. With only a scant amount of traffic and short sprints to the building and back, we complete our task and get back with only moments to spare.

At noon we have a short lunch with compositions students from the Perpich Center High School. Yes, compositions students, and they are engaged and asking serious questions. Wow! talk about a great group of young people. They seem so excited about music, and engaged with the art. Experiences like this remind me that even in the hardest times, there is still so much talent that will continue to rise up. I wish the best to this group and hope they find a life full of music making for themselves.

Our afternoon rehearsal with composers Fernando Buide, Carl Schimmel, and Geoff Knorr goes equally well or better than the morning. Everyone is happy to be a part of such a great program of music and we finish out the session with a panel discussion about self-publishing and e-marketing. Our panel comprised of Stephen Paulus, Alex Shapiro, and Abbie Betinish is helpful, and Stephen is nice enough to bring in a huge list of ass-saving publishing details, that would make even the best amateur publisher blush.

We conclude and return to the hotel for a brief thirty-minute break. The remainder of the evening is dedicated to dinner hosted by VP and Director of Concert Music ASCAP, Fran Richard. Now I should probably disclose that I am with BMI, but I won’t hold that against Fran. (I have known Fran for a good number of years and we do get along, most of the time.) We have a great dinner at a tasty Thai restaurant “King and I”—I personally thought it was going to be something akin to Medieval Times with a name like that—and we went well past dinner with lively discussion about the business, and Stephen Paulus providing comic relief with a spoon bending trick. (It’s probably too tedious to explain, but very funny after a few martinis!)

Returning back to the hotel, everyone recalls their day, and the good experiences that emerge. Our gratefulness to Aaron, Osmo, and the orchestra and how much we look forward to our big day tomorrow.

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