Ingram Marshall: Today’s Music Tomorrow

The Orchestra

FRANK J. OTERI: Now to enter some potentially really dark waters, let’s talk about the American orchestra and institutional structures that pose difficult obstacles to the kind of collaboration that you need to make your music come across, that so many composers need to make their music come across. You know, you send a score and if you’re one of the lucky people who gets his or her music played you get two or three rehearsals, boom, boom, boom, and your piece gets played at the beginning of a concert followed by a Brahms concerto, a Tchaikovsky symphony, and you’re out and that’s it. How can you work within that? You just did this amazing piece for orchestra that Nonesuch just put out. Of course, you were working with the American Composers Orchestra, whose reason for being is to work with American composers, so it’s not typical. But what has been your experience working with other orchestras?

INGRAM MARSHALL: Well, very little. I wrote a piece for the Oakland Symphony once in the early ’80s. I wrote a piece for the St. Louis Symphony. I wrote a piece for the L.A. Philharmonic, actually it was a chamber orchestra and then this work for the American Composers Orchestra, so only four pieces. And with the ACO, they expect something new and different. In my case, it was a piece for tape and orchestra and they wanted that and they really asked me specifically to write something with a tape part. So my strategy was to try to notate as much information as I could, using traditional notation. Not leave too much up to chance, although there were places in the score where it was kind of ambiguous on purpose, which drives some conductors crazy. You know, where I’ve a whole note with a fermata over it and it’s sort of a five to ten seconds, whatever the conductor has written in five beats, you know, they want to beat time. But that’s fine. And it worked in fact. I had several sessions with Paul Dunkel, who was the conductor and I played him the tape part and he literally rehearsed conducting the orchestra stuff over the tape part. You know, the tape part is a given, so everything has to connect to it. So in a way, once the conductor figures it all out, it’s not too hard to pull it off and it’s been performed by some other orchestras, too. So, it’s actually, I think, a pretty easy piece to play.

FRANK J. OTERI: Now did you work closely with those other orchestras that played it also?

INGRAM MARSHALL: The most recent one was in Holland, it was the Radio Symphony Orchestra in Hilversum and in that case I didn’t work too closely with the conductor. I sort of got there for the last rehearsal and it was O.K. But I would’ve preferred to have an extra session.

FRANK J. OTERI: So could this piece exist in the world without you?

INGRAM MARSHALL: Oh, yeah. Sure and when it comes to writing an orchestra piece, that’s what it’s all about. You really have to write something that can be understood and reinterpreted by other people.

FRANK J. OTERI: Well, it’s interesting. Going back 20 years again to Gradual Requiem, that’s orchestral music, too! I mean, it’s not being played by an “orchestra” but it sounds orchestral. And it feels like it was conceived orchestrally.

INGRAM MARSHALL: I never thought of that. I understand what you’re saying, some of the sonorities are kind of orchestral.

FRANK J. OTERI: The sonorities, the architecture, the vastness of it… These are qualities you hardly ever get in music with anything but an orchestra.

INGRAM MARSHALL: Well, when I write for the orchestra, I write for big masses of sound too. You know, there aren’t a lot of detailed solos happening and I’m really dealing with timbre and sonority and the next piece I’m going to write is also for tape and orchestra and boys choir. Again, I know, I’m thinking in you know, in terms of large blocks of sound. So, maybe I’m thinking electronically when I write for orchestra.