I have officially started my faculty development leave (used to be known as a sabbatical). That means all of my creative energies can be put toward the piano concerto. Well, actually I have six big band charts to finish before then. Haha. I remember one time a favorite mentor of mine told me my greatest weakness was that I had a hard time saying ‘no’ to anything. Guess I haven’t fixed that yet 😉
As I mentioned on the first concerto post, I will be posting here as I progress on the concerto project. Here’s an update:
Notice the image in this post – yep. Blank staff paper – it can be both the most exciting and most daunting thing about composing. Luckily I already have some ideas down on paper, although they’re just fragments now. This part is often the most fun for me – coming up with the overall musical material, the big structures, the little nuggets of material that will be spun out over the length of the piece. I find that as I get busier as a composer, this part of the process is the one that keeps me coming back, agreeing to do new projects, taking new commissions, and otherwise living the on-again-off-again, hectic deadline-driven life of a composer.
I also find that when I’m juggling several projects at once, I tend to procrastinate on the hard work part and revel in the beginning creative process of each piece. Right now I have to write 3 big band charts for a Nnenna Freelon/John Brown big band Christmas record, a new Radiohead big band chart commissioned by some great high school programs around here, a commission for the ‘Iolani School in Hawaii, a commission for Province 32 of the Phi Mu Alpha Fraternity, and a piece for the Kandinsky Trio to help celebrate their 25th anniversary. Phew! I could spend all summer just working on the fun parts – unfortunately to get anything done on time, it’s better for me to start a piece, get nitty-gritty with the writing and editing, and finish before I start messing around too much with the next piece.
So athough I’m busy finishing up the big band pieces, I have been steadily working to keep informing myself of the great examples of past piano concertos. The Brahms concertos are unbelievable, and I think I’ll be going back to those quite a bit as I go through this process. They’re a bit long for my taste, but are proportioned very well, and the orchestration is great. Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto is also a fantastic example of how to treat the piano and orchestra together, and of course the way he uses form and structure is so completely brilliant. There are quite a number of 20th century concertos I’ve listened to in the past month that are simply too dissonant for me – those by John McCabe, Ronald Stevenson, Andrzej Panufnik, and the early Rautavaara come immediately to mind. I appreciate the artistry in them, and the recordings I’ve heard have been typically fantastic, but I just feel that so many of those pieces leave people turned off by art music. Many of those pieces are also so extremely virtuosic that they have virtually no chance of being performed more than once every 25 years (and less often if there’s a good recording).
A great reference book that’s been helping me discover unfamiliar works in this genre is Music for Piano and Orchestra: An Annotated Guide, by Maurice Hinson. Hinson references more works for piano and orchestra than you could possibly imagine.
I’m also making my way through Rimsky-Korsakov’s Principles of Orchestration. The most interesting things so far are his detailed and editorial quips about the various sonic characters of the combinations of instruments. He gets very detailed, such as what happens when you pair vlns I and II in octaves, but they’re divisi and a woodwind is added to the top voice. Great stuff!
That’s it for now – more will come as I keep making my way through this project. Keep posted!