The ACO Underwood Readings’ Blog: Be Prepared

May 21st, the first day of reading. “It’s traumatic, be prepared,”

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Tamar Muskal on the “Hot Seat”
Photo courtesy American Composers Orchestra

suggested Derek Bermel, creative advisor for the American Composers Orchestra. In a very brief rehearsal time, seven pieces need to be read for the first time, and we, composers, need to be in our highest level of alert, focus, and efficiency so we can quickly identify the problems and address the orchestra in the shortest and clearest possible way. From the first moment of the reading till its end, the orchestra proved once again that it is a group of incredibly talented, experienced and smart musicians that can do the “impossible”.

The two conductors, George Manahan and Jose Serebrier, divided the work between them. Both are extremely experienced, and within the limited time, brought out the maximum from each piece. Each conductor took a different approach: Mr. Manahan read throughout the whole piece, from beginning to end and stopped only where there was a problem that required an immediate attention. Then, according to the time left, worked on the places which he thought should be polished. Mr. Serebrier took a different approach working first on the places that he thought needed special attention; at times those were the endings of the pieces. Once he covered those places, he read the piece from beginning to end.

Seven pieces, each is so individual, unique and interesting in its own way; may I call myself for a moment “Tamarsini”? I am joking, I am not here to critique, quite the contrary! One piece, like a piece of fine jewelry, had beautiful and delicate details. Another piece was very human, dramatic and intense; its “open” ending left my heart beating. There was a piece that I could easily imagine as music for ballet or opera; I constantly “heard” stories behind it. Another piece has so much soul in it, very tender, yet very poignant. In another I heard a school of fish swim in unexpected directions, powerful as a group, and at the same time constantly bringing out never ending surprising details for individual instruments. Still another had a very tasteful humor in it, plus great orchestration with a smart use of the orchestra’s forces; often the orchestration was “economic”, which brought out great, imaginative colors while the tutti was kept for special moments.

After the pieces were read by the orchestra, the composers met with the conductors, the three mentor composers—ACO Artistic Director Robert Beaser, ACO Creative Director Derek Bermel, and award winning composer George Tsontakis— orchestra principals, librarian, and ACO personal. This session focused on practical issues (parts, notation, etc.). Those issues were covered in every possible way: through the eyes of conductors, who are the ones to put the pieces together, the eyes of the performers, the ones who execute the music, and the eyes of the mentor composers who were also emerging composers once and after years of experience, they are very familiar with the way a part should be made.

Last but not least:

Yesterday, Thursday, we met with board member Astrid Baumgardner, who discussed setting and achieving career goals as a composer. It was a very lively and effective workshop, as she coached us and drew our attention to what we think of ourselves, how we define ourselves as people and as composers and how we present ourselves and our music. She offered great tips and a “bag” of useful thoughts!

More to come – tomorrow!

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