Blogging the 2011 ACO Composer Readings: Three Dining Room Tables Long

What a wonderful and exhausting day! We met with our mentor composers and the conductor in the morning then re-convened in Miller Theater at 2pm for the rehearsals. The orchestra worked their way through 8 pieces in a 3 hour rehearsal with two 15-minute breaks, and actually ended about 5 or 10 minutes early! Maestro Manahan and the orchestra did a terrific job of getting through everyone’s material – checking difficult areas where necessary, and managed to get 1 or 2 complete run-throughs of each piece. That’s a lot of material.

My primary concerns for my piece were with a slow hocketing string ostinato and with the choreography of the percussion parts. The first time through the orchestra pretty much nailed what was written, and in hearing it I realized that the hocket needed to be much more legato, much more connected and lyrical, for the groove to really work. So I asked that they try that the second time through, and the difference between the two runs was immense. I can’t wait to hear how it goes tonight now that the orchestra is familiar with the feel.

As for the percussion choreography, it turned out during feedback meetings that there were some major page turn problems in my percussion score. Yikes! In proofreading all the parts I didn’t catch some of the difficulties the two percussionists would run into as far as page turns and switching back and forth between shared instruments. The principal said that he measured out the total number of feet necessary for the parts to be played with shared instruments; the instruments stretched out in a straight line would cover 18 feet—about three dining room tables long was the example he gave. This turned out to be the only glaring problem with my parts and and a very instructive lesson for future part-making. Most of the parts I create for my own ensembles are 2-3 pages at the most. The percussion score I gave the players for Palimpsest is 9 pages. Not terribly long actually—after all my piece is only five minutes. What I needed to do, though, was not just print it out, but line up a mock part to see what the runs were going to look like. Live and learn!

I really appreciated the concertmaster and the principal cellist both saying they enjoyed the challenge of some of the fast passages I wrote for them. The cellist smiled and called one run “nasty.” The principal flutist also had some kind comments about my woodwind orchestrations. She said the entire section appreciated that I wrote solos for unusual instruments (English horn, contrabassoon), as well as the prominent parts many of the winds played throughout the piece. The horn principal echoed this as well. (She happens to have a ripe solo part.) No complaints about the trombone runs being difficult to play at the tempo I indicated, but it turned out the conductor slowed that section slightly because he thought it might be a problem. Thing was, the tempo stayed under slightly from the difficult trombone part to the end (about 30 seconds), and I was hoping for a big, fast finish. He suggested nudging the tempo back up the measure after the fast trombone passage through to the end. Seems like a good solution.

What an incredible feeling it was to sit in what we called “the hot seat” half-jokingly all day—the seat in the audience where each composer sat as they played your piece—and listen to the music come off the page. I can’t wait to hear it again tonight, more polished and internalized. My sincere thanks and gratitude to Maestro Manahan, all the musicians, mentor composers, fellow composers, and Columbia’s Center for Jazz Studies staff for making this such a positive and educational experience.

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