Blogging the 2011 ACO Composer Readings: Before & After

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Michael Djupstrom

Thursday night: This last week has been a busy one, so it wasn’t until this morning (Thursday) that it hit me that the Readings were just around the corner! Coming up on the train from Philly tonight, it occurred to me that I’ll most likely hear my piece tomorrow without ever having gone over it with ACO’s Music Director George Manahan, and though it might seem a little counterintuitive, I kind of like that idea.

Even though first rehearsals can be a little painful sometimes, they give you an immediate sense of how players react to your music, in both a technical sense—Do the notes on the page make sense? Does your notation get across what you were trying to say? Where are the hangups and pitfalls (answer: never where you expect…)?—and in a human way, too. I love being there when a group suddenly lights up and really digs in. Let’s hope it happens tomorrow!

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Friday: The first day is done now, and overall, I think it was quite a success! The orchestra and Maestro Manahan did an incredible job, managing to rehearse six totally different pieces well in a short block of time (3 hours, minus the requisite breaks for the musicians). Even though the rehearsal time was extremely limited, you really could get a good sense of each piece by the second run through.

Those traps and pitfalls I was wondering about last night just didn’t happen. My piece is pretty clear and direct, but I still was a little surprised by how easily they managed it—not only to play all the notes, but also to grasp the musical and dramatic purpose behind them. By tomorrow night, I think it’ll sound great, and I can only imagine how it would be with just one more real rehearsal! (“Just one more rehearsal”….. How many times in my life I’ve caught myself thinking that!) Regardless of the “end result” tomorrow night, the experience today gave me a clear sense of how easily certain things come together with this kind of ensemble, and that in turn will give me a much greater sense of freedom to experiment and explore in future orchestral works.

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