Saturday, June 25, 2011

Music11: Day 5

Friday we had our final round of music sharing sessions, hearing from Hojin Lee, Gabriella Smith, David Trum, Francisco Alvarez, and Kerrith Livengood. Much of the discussion centered around the use or influence of electronics, and the way that can change one's voice as a composer. For instance, David's electronic music proved to be markedly different from his acoustic music, while Gabriella's orchestra piece used instrumental effects to create Radiohead-esque electronic-sounding textures. Kerrith has been recording various sounds she stumbles upon, which then turn into short pieces posted on her blog, where she has been posting a new piece everyday for almost a year!

Unfortunately, this morning Matthias Pintscher had to leave for his next festival commitment back in the US. We really enjoyed having him here at Music11, and will certainly miss him.

In the evening we heard artistic director/resident composer Joel Hoffman speak about his music. At the beginning he asked if there was anything in particular we would like to hear about him, his music, or life as a professional composer. Numerous topics were suggested; here are a few:

The difference between the new music scenes in the US and Italy (since Hoffman lived in Italy for several years)

The process of forging a working career as a composer

The artistic transition from being a student to being a professional

The way notation represents and influences the character of a piece (our favorite topic from the other night!)

Being a composer in academia

The use of graphic notation and colors

Hoffman somehow managed to at least touch on all of these topics, weaving them into his words about the pieces he played for us. With regard to notation, he pointed out that the main issue is: what do we insist upon in our scores, and what do we leave up to the performer(s)? He noted that, because of his traditional classical music upbringing, he feels happy to express all of his music in the language of traditional classical notation. However, even that notation is never an exact science. The composer must also forge a performance practice for his or her music, personally collaborating with performers to achieve the best result for each piece and each performance setting.

Hoffman played us several of his works: Millenium Dances for large orchestra; Blue and Yellow for flute and piano; The First Time and the Last originally for four cellos, but also scored in a version for ten cellos; and the second movement of his Cello Concerto. He used each of these pieces to continue touching on the topics we suggested. In particular, he mentioned that his position in academia allows him the freedom to write pieces that are not always practical, such as the enormous Millenium Dances. Although he composed this work and many others on paid commission, he is grateful than his livelihood is provided primarily by his teaching; therefore each piece need not be targeted to make the maximum amount of money, but can focus instead on expressing his current state as an artist and a human being. The four pieces Hoffman played did indeed represent some very different points in his creative journey. He mentioned that he is ultimately an eclectic composer. Although he sometimes envies more narrowly focused composers, he feels compelled to follow his wide-ranging musical tastes - he feels more comfortable looking up at distant stars than examining tiny objects through a microscope. However, he also believes that in each piece - regardless of style - a composer should choose carefully limited materials and make the most of them. These paradoxes are what keep us interested in the creative process; the dialogue of possibilities and limitations makes music both difficult and rewarding.

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