The Addictive Roller Coaster Ride (The 2011-2012 Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute Blog, Day 3)

Thursday was the first day of rehearsals with the orchestra. This is something I had been anticipating with great excitement! Right before rehearsal began, we had another opportunity to practice our public speaking in the Green Room, to the handful of auditors who were there, and Diane Odash.

Then the first three pieces, Michael’s, Andreia’s, and mine, were rehearsed from 10 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. The orchestra sounds extraordinary, of course—this is something you know before you hear them, but you don’t really understand the thrill of it until you actually are there in the house with your score in your hands, tensed up with the excitement of hearing your piece come to life.

My piece is a premiere, so I’ve never heard it before now. I have a pretty good aural imagination, but not even the most fabulous sound I can envision in my head can compare to the actual experience of having some hundred people on the stage doing exactly what I have asked them to do. It is, as Steven Stucky said in his orchestration seminar, one of life’s greatest thrills, but also a great responsibility, and a humbling experience.

My personal perspective about writing music and having it played feels addictive: those first rehearsal glitches, where your piece is still unknown to the players cause a certain amount of terror in a composer, but once you start to hear them smooth out, and the piece start to assemble itself into the entity you created, you get a burst of energy like nothing else—a surge of power, a sigh of relief. (This is assuming your piece lives up to your hopes for it—that you did your job as a composer the way you meant to!)

It’s almost like the thrill you get from riding a roller coaster: as the coaster creeps up the rails to the highpoint from which the real ride begins, you can’t help feeling terrified; the ride begins and your body thinks that it is headed for destruction, pumping adrenaline through you at an alarming rate—but then, your mind wins as you tell your body that you’re not going to die, you’re just on a thrilling ride. This feeling of having conquered your fears and proved them to be groundless is exhilarating: you can’t help wanting to ride the roller coaster again and again, and somehow it never loses its power to deliver this jag.

Maestro Osmo Vänskä brought each of our pieces into being, consulting with us to fine-tune the details: revisions of any tempi or dynamic markings, changes to any articulations, etc. I can’t wait to hear the dress rehearsal tomorrow, when the pieces will have come to life even more vividly.


(Maestro Vänskä talking about the Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute and his commitment to performing the music of our time.)

Following the afternoon rehearsals, we all filed into the Green Room for a session with Steven Stucky, Stephen Paulus, Frank J. Oteri, and Alex Shapiro moderated by Aaron Jay Kernis about becoming a part of your community as a composer, increasing your potential audience and helping them feel welcomed into experiencing new music as opposed to feeling alienated by it.

Finally we all walked over to The King and I, a Thai restaurant where we all unwound together over some fabulous Pad Thai, spring rolls, calamari, and many more yummy dishes that I’m currently too tired to remember. I’m almost ready to call it a night and close my computer, sinking into the comfortable bed at the Hotel Ivy.

I’m here with my husband and my one-month-old baby girl, Beatrice. More about that tomorrow—it has been a bit of a juggling act to be a new mother and attend such an intensely packed event, but I feel strongly that both roles can be balanced, and that we (especially women) should not sacrifice one for the other. I say especially women because it’s a little less complicated for men, I think (especially in the case of breastfed babies); I have several male colleagues who have had children at the same point in their lives as I have, but very few female colleagues who have. Although it’s a challenge, I feel I am being political in my choice to have a family and a career simultaneously.

When I was at Harvard I lived for a semester with Jill Lepore and her family. (Jill is a staff writer for The New Yorker.) Jill used to say that the greatest act of feminism these days is to have both a career and a family; we are told too often that in order to keep up with our male colleagues that we can’t have children. This simply isn’t true. It’s hard, yes, but very important to be able to have this if we want.

Anyway, I’ll get off my soapbox and get into bed for tonight.

[Ed. Note: Our next installment will feature score samples from each of the six works; in addition, you can hear a live stream of the concert at 8:00 p.m. Central Standard Time.—FJO]

One thought on “The Addictive Roller Coaster Ride (The 2011-2012 Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute Blog, Day 3)

  1. Pingback: Creativity in action, for all to see | American Orchestra Forum Creativity in action, for all to see | A conversation with America’s leading orchestras

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