It was one of those weeks. Two projects getting very much closer to fruition, pretty much at the same time. It’s a nice thing about being a freelance composer that one day is often not like the next — sometimes you’re mostly composing, or mostly copying, or mostly doing administrative things. Less often, but more excitingly, you’re going to rehearsals of your new pieces. It happens that two pieces that I’ve been working on for a while now are both being premiered this month, and that has meant a flurry of rehearsals. (Is there a collective noun for “rehearsals”?)
First up, premiering tomorrow actually, is a little piece I’ve posted about before: Jubilant Red. This was commissioned by the Vancouver Inter-Cultural Orchestra for an event called “The Composers’ Intercultural Kitchen”. Whoever did VICO’s poster gets a gold star for the correct use of an apostrophe, by the way. A group of really wonderful colleagues (most of them Vancouver locals) and I were asked to choose a non-Western instrument from a demonstrated selection, and write a five-minute piece for that instrument plus string quartet.
I chose the sanxian, in part because I loved its banjo-ness and I thought that would stand up well against the quartet, and in part because I loved the energy of sanxian virtuoso Geling Jiang during her demonstration, and I wanted to work with her. She also plays the zheng and pipa and a bunch of other traditional Chinese instruments, because apparently she’s not content to just be good at one instrument. It was a great experience for me to learn about an instrument that was new to me, and find ways to write idiomatically for it while letting my own voice come through as well. Geling says I understand the sanxian, so I guess I succeeded. It’s always nice to see the performer smile! Geling and I met to go through the sanxian part in detail — it’s a short piece, but that doesn’t mean it’s not challenging! I like to write fast music, and this has quite a bit of fast music…
A few days later, it was time for a rehearsal with the ensemble. It’s always exciting to hear the sounds from outside my head! Strangely, the music is quieter when it’s just in my imagination. VICO has brought together a fantastic foursome of string players to be part of this project, busy and talented professionals who play a lot of new music. It’s so fascinating to watch musicians at work, how they learn (quickly) how the music goes, what to listen for, who to watch. It’s also always so instructive to witness how the performers make this happen, because it informs how I write the next piece. Musicians love to be challenged, but I have to understand how to make it an achievable challenge. After all their hard work, I want there to be the reward at the end of being able to go out and give a great performance and have a good time doing it!
Jubilant Red is inspired by a painting of the same name by Jean McEwen (at the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal), and now VICO decided to name the concert after my little piece. It’s been such an adventure creating it and it’ll be a great intercultural evening tomorrow. Thanks to VICO for making it happen and for giving me the opportunity to be part of it!
Part 2 coming soon — Book of Love.
Photo 1: Poster courtesy VICO
Photo 2: Mark Armanini
Photo 4: Bob Pritchard