Thursday, September 15, 2005

Letter to a conductor

I've just started contacting performers and conductors for my DM recital here at Indiana University, scheduled (now officially) for Tuesday, November 15th @ 5PM in Auer Hall. In doing so, the most difficult piece to put together for the recital (by far) will be my "Colors in Silence", for 13 solo singers (2 sopranos, 3 mezzo-sopranos, 2 altos, 2 tenors, 2 baritones, 2 basses), flute, clarinet, violin, viola, cello, piano and harp.

Since the piece is very new in many ways, I feel it will require more rehearsal than normally given. I've been thinking about this issue for a while now, especially regarding large ensembles doing new music, and why a lot of the time, new music is not recieved well by audiences. My goal is to not pass any kind of blame on anyone for anything, just to point out a symptom of an existing problem. I just wrote this email to my conductor for the piece, and it all came pouring out. I hope she takes it in the right way!

I have some thoughts on the piece regarding rehearsal.

This piece (as you will remember when you get the score) is very different and in some ways new in its musical conception, writing and execution. For these reasons, I want to start rehearsals a month before the performance. Before you freak out :) - let me explain why.

The piece is somewhat demanding as far as notes, etc for the singers and players, and of course getting it together as an emsemble will be challenging, but that's not the main difficulty. What I am seeing more and more (and for many pieces this is totally fine, but not for all), is a sort of crash course approach to learning new pieces without enough time for the performers to really understand the piece as a piece of music. More often than not, the performers are simply reading notes and rhythms onstage, with absolutely no concept of what the piece is supposed to sound like, or how it works as a coherent piece of music. I mean, if the ensemble has no clue how the piece is supposed to work or sound as an ensemble, let alone as an individual, how is the piece supposed to make any kind of sense to an audience? Our performers today are so technically good, that it's true they can learn things extremely quickly, but as you know, performing music is more than playing the right notes and rhythms, regardless of how flawlessly they are executed. A great performance also brings in something more - maybe something you can't really explain, but some kind of musical synergy that can only be felt. This simply takes a little time to live with the piece and let it swim around in your head for a while. Normally I wouldn't make a big deal about it, but I really believe that the special nature of this piece requires a longer exposure to really "get" it. I don't just want a glorified reading - I want a real performance. Maybe in the current musical climate this will be seen as too demanding, but I pour my heart and soul into every piece I write, and I don't think it's too much to strive for. I'm sorry if I sound like I'm lecturing you, I don't mean to, I'm just trying to explain how I feel about it.

In any case, we should talk about it. Maybe if we just did a few rehearsals a week for four weeks - that would be incredible, and I think allow for a real chance at something special. I will work my ass off to find perfromers that will really commit to the project. If I haven't scared you away (hehe) then I'll see you soon and we can discuss it more - thanks again!
My point is clear I think: no audience can understand a piece of music if the performers themselves don't understand it. This point also has nothing to do with style or genre. This could apply to the most tonal piece of music (such as something by Arvo Pärt for example) to something like Anton Webern. Music comes down to passion, and commitment, and if those two elements don't exist in the performance, it's not a performance.


Rafael Hernandez said...

My 2¢

Relax. You are setting yourself up for a disaster through subconcious micro-management and worry.

Sure, they may not "get it" the first few read throughs, but what if they eventually get it but it isn't how you envisioned they'd "get it"? Could it be that you really want them to "get it" in a certain way?

Anthony Joseph Lanman said...

Nah - I just want them to get it, period. Just get it - and I'm aware that the only way they can get it is in thier own way - no one can get it in my way but me.

japanese said...

I love your works that inspired me.

Anthony Joseph Lanman said...

Wow - whoever you are, thank you!