Composer Institute Blog: Post #3

Composer Institute Blog: Post #3

I’ve just returned to my room after a brief breakfast with Mike Boyman and Michael Foumai before they head to the airport. Judy was supposed to join us, but I hope she is sleeping and having an awesome dream about tigers. Mike and I both looked a bit scraggly because we could barely sleep last night after the concert–our minds were still spinning. After such an intense and amazing week, we are all happy and exhausted. 

Leading up to last night’s concert, we were immersed in rehearsals with the orchestra. The first was a quick run of all of the pieces, followed by a more intensive working rehearsal, then a final session to fix last minute details. However, casually listing that in one sentence really does not do justice to the density of information and music-making that happened over the last few days. We set up camp in Orchestra Hall, surrounded by coats and piles of each other’s scores. As the musicians quickly picked up our technical instructions, they gradually began to understand our poetic intentions as well. I was impressed by the extremely efficient pace of the rehearsal and how quickly it all came together. Moreover, this underscored the importance of the composers’ job to communicate with clarity both verbally and in our written materials. 

Throughout the process, we each had the privilege of meeting individually with Maestro Osmo Vänskä. We spoke about specific concerns in our pieces and discussed more general topics about writing for the orchestra. One point that came up frequently was the issue of balance within and between the instrumental families–proving how crucial it is for a composer to have a strong inner ear. While he was accommodating with our rookie mistakes, it was also very clear that he approached our pieces with the same focus as he would Sibelius or Beethoven. The same could be said for all of the musicians. It felt validating to be taken so seriously, and yet humbling to experience their knowledge of the repertoire and the depth of commitment to their roles in the orchestra.

Nothing brings a group of composers together more than anxiety about an upcoming concert. Throw in some public speaking engagements and there will probably be some life-long friendships in the making. We had all kinds of practice with this important skill: in front of cameras, with microphones, in small groups, as well as an entire hall full of people. In spite of the nerves, I was proud that we successfully communicated about ourselves, our music and the work of being a composer. It has been incredibly fun to get to know the other composers over beers and laughs, then to see each person’s little quirks peeking through the more packaged-up formal remarks and responses. And of course, I learned many lessons from my colleagues’ musical viewpoints and am so inspired by each work’s specific strengths. I’ve grown to love all of the pieces and will have them playing in my head over at least the next few days. 

As for the concert itself, we could not have asked for a better performance or a more interested audience. All of the pieces shone uniquely and I could see and hear the accumulation of effort and passion that grew from the first rehearsal onward. It is rare for an orchestra to reach the point of interpretation with brand new music, much less seven pieces on the same program! On top of that, we were buoyed by a hall full of people who were responsive listeners and curious about our work. The entire evening was a thrilling experience and one that I will definitely cherish. 

As I wrap up this very short blog series, I would like to thank Kevin Puts for his guidance and mentoring, Frank Oteri for his lovely presence and cheering us on, and all of the American Composers Forum and Minnesota Orchestra staff for facilitating the week. The composers are particularly grateful to Mele Willis for managing our activities and being so supportive of us. I also want to publicly send love to my colleagues and friends: Katie, Mike, Judy, Michael, Conrad and Phil. This week has reaffirmed for me that music requires making broad connections to be successful and impactful— from the administrators and staff, conductor, composers and musicians, to the audience members. As I return to Kansas with a stack of new CDs and wonderful memories, I hope to always keep in mind the strong sense of community surrounding the Minnesota Orchestra and this particular institute. 

Read Tonia's first blog entry »

Read Tonia's second blog entry »

The Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute »

Future Classics details & tickets »

Thank you, Tonia, for sharing your experience during this year's Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute!


Tonia Ko