A few months back I had the honor of having my piece Springs of a Desperate Heart read by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra (BPO) as part of the Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute EarShot Readings, put on by the American Composers Orchestra and sponsored by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the Herb Alpert Foundation. Alongside three prestigious mentor composers (Nicole Mitchell, James Newton, and Anthony Davis) I and four other composers had the opportunity to have our new orchestral works read and workshopped by the wonderful musicians of BPO under the baton of Associate Conductor Matthew Kramer.
The wisdom and experience of the mentor composers, along with Maestro Kramer's outstanding musicianship and the excellent performance and feedback from the musicians of the orchestra, made it easy to navigate the many challenges of writing for a symphony orchestra (for all of us, it was our first composition for a full orchestra). I learned so much about issues of notation, balance, rhythm, and meter (among many other musical aspects) and about how to communicate jazz and Balkan folk music sensibilities effectively on the page to musicians who may or may not be familiar with the nuances of those musical languages.
One highlight for me was getting to work with BPO English Hornist Anna Mattix, who taught me the basics of playing the oboe when I was an undergraduate at Indiana University! It was such a pleasure hearing her play once again and offer constructive feedback on my work as well.
We were also joined by two journalists in residence, who offered some timely advice on how to continue pursuing the composition of new music and how to engage with communities of musicians and audiences interested in jazz and new classical music. Howard Mandel (president of the Jazz Journalists Association and a highly esteemed jazz journalist) offers his reflections on the week here, and Frank J. Oteri of NewMusicBox deals with the challenges of writing for an orchestra here. Their insights for us about the intersection of the musical and the extra-musical in composition were among the many highlights of the week.
This was an experience I will not soon forget and will definitely use what I've learned to not only refine Springs of a Desperate Heart for future performances, but also more effectively express my musical ideas in all of my compositions.
(Excerpted recordings of the reading coming soon!)