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Showing posts from May, 2008

The Idea is catching on....

Ok, so maybe I can't claim the idea to mix pop music and classical music. And since my concert is yet to happen, I can't even claim to be the influence of other groups trying a similar mix of pop and classical. However, it is heartening to hear the String Orchestra of New York City, or SONYC as they are more commonly know, is playing some new music with just this same sort of mix. The New York Times review of their performance speaks of several composers works covering a blending of styles from evertyhing from Jazz to Pop to Afro-Cuban to Rap. Not only does this encourage my own direction of music composition, I think I've found an orchestra I'd like to compose something for...

News Flash: Opera Plots are Terrible

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Or so says Ian McEwan. Well he is right. And wrong. Opera has a long tradition of pulling stories from literature, including folk tales and the oral tradition. This means the plots are varied and uneven with fantastical elements that can beggar belief. (Ever read the original story of Cinderella? Brutal!) Add to this the fact that the composer and librettist are often speaking two different languages and the recipe for plot disaster is created. The legendary exploits of composers slashing the libretto to fit the music are numerous, as are the battle of wills between the artist of the written word and the master of the musical notes.Where I think the problem comes in is when one element or the other assumes superiority - when story and music are at war, one element will lose out and that is most often the story. So how do Chip and I solve this power struggle to ensure that our collaborations produce end products that have both exquisite music and exciting and engrossing story? R…

Is the Monkey searching for Immortality, or is Opera searching for something new

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Innovation in music and art is pretty much constant. While there are those who will follow in the footsteps of an innovator, creating a wave of "new works" in what ever the newest style happens to be, there are other's who are out to find that next horizon. Unfortunately, a good portion of the 20th century was spent exploring, exposing and espousing so many different crazes it's hard to know what worked and what didn't. One key is determining how well the original work was able to be reproduced by other performers. If it couldn't be re-created, then it may have been a work of art, a quality performance, but it isn't a form that will last; it is performer dependant.The Spoleto Festival in the USA is where "Monkey: Journey to the West" is getting its American debut. The "opera" is a collection of animations, acrobats, aerialists, opera singers, pit orchestra, pop music and much more. The original production was done at the Manchester Int…

What's happening in Classical music scene

I love reading the online NY Times Music page. While I can attend any of the events (the cost of the last minute flight would break the bank), it is nice to keep up with what's happening. There is a premier of an opera this week (what?? another opera premiering????) - but it's a premier of a production of an opera from 1792, so not quite the same was our own "It Must Be Fate"... (whew).New Orleans is being treated to N.O. Music Alive and their blend of classical and jazz.On the other side of the US, Thomas Adès is conducting the Los Angles Chamber Orchestra at the Disney Hall. Locally, the Edinburgh Light Orchestra is performing at the Queen's Hall on Saturday. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra with Julian Rachlin performing Brahms and Strauss is performing at the Royal Festival Hall, London tonight (Friday). Cornwall has something interesting - Music by composers living in Cornwall is in Truro tonight. The Milton Keynes City Orchestra is performing at Dor…

Broadway, Music worthy of a listen

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I am a fan of Broadway, particularly the musicals. I have long felt the modern Broadway composers, such as Hamlisch, Sondheim and Schwartz have often been overlooked by the classical world because of the "simplicity" of Broadway music. This is an unfortunate misconception. Anyone who has ever tried to sing a Sondheim score knows just how difficult the music can be. While Hamlisch and Schwartz tend to be more strophic in their song composition, even they come up with elements of music that are challenging for even the most accomplished performers. The range a vocalist needs to be adept at for most Broadway music leads exceeds most lead roles by Mozart. Occasionally, Mozart uses the ultra high coloratura Soprano range, but as this range is often more effectual (pyrotechnics) and not necessarily good for understanding the words Broadway tends to avoid it's use - as the words are important. Which points to another difference between opera and Broadway; the libretto in oper…

Tickets sales and classical music

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Money may be the root of all evil, but without it putting on a classical music concert is nearly impossible. Getting money for one concert is tough, but when looking at the long range picture (future concerts) it's important to know how to leverage a current event to the greatest advantage.Publicity for a classical music event is primarily an attempt to get tickets sold, people through the door of a concert. And in some respects the publicity campaign we've been running is working. I was stopped on the street the other day because someone recognised my face from the poster; they mentioned how excited they were and looking forward to the concert (posters working, check). A lecturer at Edinburgh University mentioned to his students about the concert fliers encouraging them to all attend (fliers working, check). One of the many publication we sent press releases to actually came back with notification they would be printing an article this week (press releases working, check). Ho…

It Must Be Fate - a synopsis

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Due to the recent requests for some idea as to what the opera It Must Be Fate will be about, I am reposting the synopsis here. This isn't the complete libretto (although that will be available in the programme purchased at the concert) - but this should give you an idea into what to expect - come June 4th. ----------------------- It Must Be Fate SynopsisSetting: A cave on the side of Mt. Olympus, home to the triple aspect Goddess – Fate.The three sister Goddesses of Fate, Clotho, the Virgin, Lachesis, the Mother and Atropos, the Crone sit weaving the tapestry of life. The ever present Greek Chorus voices the lives of the humans that are being woven. The work is repetitive and rhythmical – soothing – but Clotho is restive. She complains of being bored and briefly argues with her sisters before leaving the cave to get some air.The Chorus comments that bored and restive children often get themselves in trouble – taking unexpected paths - making choices that parents would not approve of…

Figuratively Speaking - programme notes

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The following are the programme notes for the Symphony No 1 to be performed at the concert. Figuratively Speaking is an orchestral metaphormet-a-phor ( m t-fôr ,-fr) n. one thing conceived as representing another; a symbol Metaphor (from the Greek: μεταφορά - metaphora) is language that directly compares seemingly unrelated subjects. In the simplest case, this takes the form: "The [first subject] is a [second subject]." More generally, a metaphor is a rhetorical trope that describes a first subject as being or equal to a second subject in some way. Thus, the first subject can be economically described because implicit and explicit attributes from the second subject are used to enhance the description of the first.1Figuratively speaking is a turn of phrase that means to speak in metaphors.1 –The road goes both ways is built on a single “figure”or motif. The piece then “Speaks” the figure in a variety of ways, modifying and manipulating it until it is unrecognizable as the or…

Skimming Rock and Skipping Stones - programme notes

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The following are the programme notes for the string quartet to be performed at the concert.This piece was originally conceived as a tribute to the anthem rock bands of the 1970’s and 80’s - groups like Yes, Kansas, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin. Anthem rock has hard driving beats with often intricate melodic lines and layers of sound; all features which influence much of the classical music I write. I did not intend this piece to be a pastiche of my favorite rock songs; it is rather (in a small way) my homage to the musical artistry and inventiveness of these musicians.The string quartet has three movements. As word play, use of colloquialisms, and double entendre is common in the naming of songs and albums in the rock world, I indulged in the same practice in naming the movements.In terms of geology, there are three types of rock: Igneous, Sedimentary and Metamorphic. Granite is an igneous type, salt is a sedimentary type and slate is a metamorphic type. I then related these types of …

Interchanging Idioms, what's the point???

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Part of the purpose of this concert is a "coming out" or announcement of my arrival as a composer. As such, it is important that I display a sense of who I am as a composer, define what is my style. Many of the previous posts have discussed my thoughts on what are the elements modern classical music ought have (at least to some extent) and this is certainly the direction I have headed with my compositions.Blending popular music styles into the classical mediumBoth the string quartet Skimming Rock and Skipping Stones and the opera It Must Be Fate incorporate modern "pop" styles. The quartet is heavily influenced by rock of the 70's and 80's while the opera is influenced by urban music. Figuratively Speaking doesn't have as much influence, although the middle movement, You Can't Catch Rabbits with Drums has a strong rhythm throughout which could be related to the strong beats of modern pop music (but that would be a tenuous connection at best).The tit…

Rehearsing the Symphony - First Night thoughts

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The first rehearsal of the Symphony took place last night, whew! Some observations:I understand why composer's compositions get better the more they have works performed. There are a number of issues (particularly in the string parts) where my writing is possible to play, but difficult. Many of these sections can be re-written without having a huge effect on the overall sound. Coming off of that previous topic, some of the nuances I have put into the score don't really matter in terms of a fully orchestrated section. When there aren't many instruments playing the subtle shift between a G sounded on the E string and the same G sounded on the A string gives a nice "shimmering" effect. But when the brass section is blaring away, a tremolo on the E string is much the same. Ok, there are probably electro-acoustic purists that will disagree, but I'm not sold on it. Left hand pizzicato isn't really an option for a cello section. I love this technique in qua…

"Four Last Songs" a performance in Edinburgh

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"Four Last Songs" by Richard Strauss was performed by the Edinburgh Symphony and Catriona Clark (pictured) last Saturday. I must admit I was not familiar with the work prior to this concert and pleasantly surprised by the beauty of the music. Although not a fan of Strauss - and not sure this concert necessarily changed that opinion - there were certainly some moments of note, elements I can take on board as a composer.The pieces showed a variety of different tonal colors, although occasionally I thought the orchestration was a bit over lush - but that tends to be my impression of Strauss. The dark thematic nature of the work allowed the orchestra to play with some rich harmonies and feature some of the instruments in the low ranges - which was nice. There was also some interesting use of the timpani giving color, accent and shape throughout the piece, otherwise, very little percussion. Catriona's voice matches the music well. Unfortunately, the acoustics of the hall didn…

Finding places to rehearse

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image is from MadeThis is a constant struggle - particularly for composers who depend on other organisations for musician. I'd like to say, fortunately in Edinburgh there are a number of churches that have been turned into community centres, but I'm not sure what that says about the state of religious attendance here. Regardless, many of these old churches (and still functioning ones) allow their halls to be used for orchestral rehearsals. The one Edinburgh Symphony Orchestra uses is a nice "gymnasium" setup. The acoustics aren't the best, but there is ample space for the orchestra and good lighting. With the opera, the leads are rehearsing at my house. I am fortunate to live in a flat with a large lounge (living room) - but then again, we had to have a place for the baby grand piano so we were rather forced to find something with some space. Again, the acoustics are the greatest, but for the intimate work with the leads it is just right. The chorus is rehearsing…

What makes a performance professional or amateur?

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If a performance is being performed by students does that make it a student performance, or is it only a student performance if the performance is being organised by students - ie, if a performance is being organised by a school or university is the performance than a school performance, rather than a student performance? If the school or university is hiring a professional group to perform is the performance a school performance or a professional performance? And what of amateurs - if some of the people performing are students does this make it a student performance or an amateur performance?In Edinburgh there are a number of "Amateur" groups that put on productions every year. Last Saturday, the Edinburgh Symphony Orchestra performed a collection of Strauss works along with a piece by Stravinsky. Joining the orchestra was a professional vocalist, and although the concert was not as pristine as you might find with the London Symphony or the Berlin Philharmonic, it was reaso…

Whirlwind adventure in the Wonderland of Classical Music

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Much of this blog has been dedicated to the quest to define what is new classical music - not that it is an obtainable goal, as music is, and should be, ever changing. This goal is rather like Alice's trip into Wonderland, every turn seems to open completely new unimaginable worlds that don't seem to make sense with what's gone on before. I've talked about composers incorporating jazz and pop (or folk) into their compositions, about the use of new instruments and sounds and about the audience's reaction to new pieces - as I feel the audience is an integral part of music (in firm disagreement with Milton Babbitt). Through all of this exploration I have tried to make sense (for myself) as to what kind of music I should be writing - all the while falling farther and farther down the rabbit hole.What is new Classical Music? Do I need to embrace the atonal world of serialism, the brain intensity dementions of new complexity or meander through the sonic-scapes of musique…

Bringing Classical Music into a Modern Age

That's what I'm talking about... incorporating all different styles of music (including pop, rock and jazz) into classical music. An article in the Boston Globe speaks of the Quartet San Francisco and the Boston String Quartet including improvisation into their concerts as well as doing covers from U2 and Metallica. Cool! The article goes on to talk about California's Turtle Island Quartet which is credited with starting the trend. In the concert on 4 June, the Edinburgh Quartet will be premiering my newest quartet - and it incorporates a number of these elements in the composition. While it is not a cover of any specific song, much of the motivation and inspiration for this piece comes from bands like Yes, Kansas, Styx, and Pink Floyd. They were (IMHO) some of the great bands from the Anthem Rock era and great composers. While I was studying their music (yes, I actually did spend time analyzing how they did what they did to make their sound) I realised many of their techn…

Fresh Talent

It's really nice working with fresh talent (I suppose I might fall into that category...). We had rehearsal with the leads for "It Must Be Fate" yesterday and the trio of female voices filling the roles of Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos (the three fates) are a real joy. Jayne Craig, Nicola Said and Clare Brady were all eager to get their parts right, focused throughout the rehearsal and really motivated. Their enthusiasm meant when we rehearsed a part, they took ownership of it; they really tried to put their best into what they were singing. So, as a composer, I could hear what it potentially was going to sound like - and in some respects justified what I'd written (it sounded really good - which, as a composer, is always the hope, but not always the reality). Yesterday, it was only previous commitments that kept us from continuing - and a good thing, because as I left rehearsal I realised just how exhausted I was, but a good kind of exhaustion, euphoric and yet compl…

Classical Music, what is it to be a classic

There's an interesting article on minyanville.com which talks about a classical music program for children developed by Michelle Snyder. That in and of itself isn't so fascinating. However, what I did find interesting about it were the comments about the pieces that affected Snyder's life.. She speaks of seeing The Nutcracker as a child of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, Bach, Chopin, Debussy... the list goes on. Certainly, these are all composers (and their music) that are firmly entrenched into the Classical Music World. A while back (March) the Classical FM radio station in the UK published their top 300 pieces, and surprisingly, many of these same pieces were listed. Classical FM gets raked over the coals for being too "candy coated" in their choice of classical music - and yet... these are the pieces the bulk of society requests to hear. Maybe that's because we're the most familiar with them. Maybe it's because they are great pieces of music (may…

Avant-garde America

In the NY Times review "Four Decades of Music the redefined Free" there are numerous references to the blending or infusion of jazz into "new" music. Again, the sentiment that jazz, one of the great musical gifts the US has given the world, is making an impact. Maybe the key to America is it is "the land of the free" and this attitude has embedded into every aspect of our thinking - to the point that when we think about music it is free(r) to associate and incorporate various styles to create something new. This isn't to say what is happening at IRCOM or Darmstadt isn't new or creative - just in a vastly different direction. And maybe what I'm resonating with are my American roots....because this incorporation of jazz into something still resembling something melodic is more in tune with my own tastes.

Male/Female brain types

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This isn't really concert or music related - but - I would be curious as to what other composers find their brain types to be...I took the test on the BBC website and not at all surprised at what my results were.... My Overall PerformanceThe scale below is an indication of where you fall in the male-female brain continuum. The results are based on the angles, spot the difference, 3D shapes and words tasks.
Bear in mind that your performance may be affected by many factors in addition to gender, like age and intelligence. Your personal brain score: Average score for MEN who've taken this survey: Average score for WOMEN who've taken this survey:

Where to hold a premier?

When and where do you premier a symphony, particularly if this is a first symphony? James MacMillan recently gave the UK Premier of his 3rd Symphony in Glasgow, but he's based on the West Coast of Scotland and Glasgow is a big town. The World Premier was done in Japan. From what I can tell John Corigliano Premiered his 1st Symphony with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra - but that could just be the World Premier Recording of it. His Symphony No 2 was done in 2001 by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, but they commissioned it.There are 23 on the Wikipedia list of composers who have composed a symphony since 1953. Oddly enough neither of the above are in that list. Of the many remarkable names on the list (and many others I'd not heard of before) Jay Greenberg seems to stand out. Born in 1991, he has composed 5 symphonies. Most of the rest of the composers have written only one or two (but I can hardly say anything as I've just finished my first). While putting out posters for the …

The Rhythm is Gonna Get You

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An Exploration into rhythm in the music of Chip Michael ClarkNote: Scores discussed in this article will be posted soonWhen I first began thinking about my music back in September 2007, I felt what I wanted to write about was what made my music unique, the quality that people describe as having a "Chip-ness" about it. Many of the composers I admire have a recognizable personality to their music. Dmitry Shostakovich has a Russian strength to his music (even though he was in and out of popularity with the Soviet Union throughout his life), his music embodies the aspirations of the people of his time. Aaron Copland is often described as the Dean of American composers. His blend of American folk tunes and modern music became known as the American Sound. Leonard Bernstein's use of cultural iconic themes and warring rhythms typify the social clash of the mid to late 20th century. These composers are all influences in my writing, but not the only ones. I grew up in the midst of…