Composers Institute nurtures talent and new orchestral musicby Euan Kerr, Minnesota Public Radio
Tomorrow night in Minneapolis seven young composers will reach what may be the pinnacle of their career, at least so far. They will each hear the Minnesota Orchestra play one of their compositions. The Future Classics concert is the culmination of a week of hard work at the Composers Institute, a unique annual event designed to nurture new artists and their music.
St. Paul, Minn. — You may not be able to remember what happened to you first thing Monday morning, but this was the start to Ted Hearne's day.
He was sitting in the spacious office of Minnesota Orchestra Music director Osmo Vanska exchanging noises.
They are going through the details of Hearne's composition "Patriot" which will be the opening piece in the Composers Institutes final concert.
Hearne describes it as a dark piece where the rhythm is as important as the melody. Maestro Vanska has already studied the score and is looking for clarifications on certain sections.
"As ugly as possible?" he asks. "As aggressive?"
"Ugly? Yes, aggressive, definitely. It should have that scratchy sound."
"The composers meeting with Osmo today is the first step in a series of potentially heartening or scary sessions," says Aaron Jay Kernis.
Pulitzer-prize winning composer, Kernis, is the founder and co-chair of the Composers Institute. He says the participants are chosen from a field of about 200 applicants every year, and then offered opportunities rarely afforded young musicians.
"First of all for many of them they have never met with a music director," Kernis says. "And Osmo is incredibly nice and incredibly easy to talk to, so that helps a lot. We've had situations in the past where composer are shaking and, no crying, but where they are nervous and can't speak that sort of thing."
Nerves don't seem to be a problem when composer Antonio DeFeo comes in for his session. Vanska pulls out a metronome to discuss a tempo change.
"Is that ok?" he asks.
DeFeo listens for a moment and says "I think so. OK, we'll try it."
"I cannot ask those kind of things of Beethoven," says Vanska with a smile. "But I can ask you. You are here."
And just for a second Antonio DeFeo looks pleased.
It's moments like this that Aaron Jay Kernis says are very important.
"It can give the composers confidence to hopefully keep on working in this world, to keep on writing orchestral music, and see that it is possible to have their works played by a great orchestra such as this," Kernis says. This doesn't mean it's all cakes and ale for the composers. There is some tough love too. The week is packed with classes and seminars on surviving as a composer in a competitive world. They range from personal development and musical skills to business knowledge.
A little later in the day, with all seven composers in the room, Ted Hearne's score gets another dissection, this time from Minnesota Orchestra Concertmaster Jorja Fleezanis.
Fleezanis works to make sure the score is as clear as possible
She picks out a few sections she has questions about and plays them, stopping to ask what Hearne wants. He agrees with how she has interpreted what he's written.
"So then I played exactly what you wanted?"
"Yes," Hearne replies.
"Brilliant!" says Fleezanis and the composers laugh.
Fleezanis says time is always short for rehearsal and having a clean easy to read score is vital. Ted Hearne heard his piece played once before by a college orchestra, and he says they weren't quite up to the job.
"But here with the Minnesota Orchestra, I am just getting a feeling that they are just on such a different level that none of that is going to be a problem at all," Hearne says. "So I am really really excited about what they are going to bring to it. I am sure I am going hear all sorts of new things."
As the classes progress the composers constantly work on their scores until finally the pieces go to the full Orchestra for rehearsal.
As the Orchestra launches into Antonio DeFeo's piece he is standing in the hall score in hand.
His body leans in and out of the music, his bobbing head trying to coax the sound to perfection. He seems lost in the moment and the music. When asked what he hoped would come out of this week he claimed a simple desire.
"I just hope that people like the music. I am glad that people can hear my music," he says.
The Future Classics concert of all seven of the composers work will be broadcast live on Minnesota Public Radios Classical Music Service live at 8 pm on Friday. The Minnesota Orchestra staff will then begin the process for selecting the composers for next years event.
- All Things Considered, 11/06/2008, 4:54 p.m.