Sibelius helps young composers’ works to the stage in Carnegie Hall

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David Robertson conducting the Lucerne Festival Orchestra (Photo courtesy Chris Lee)

Every year the Weill Music Institute, Carnegie Hall’s music education and community programming arm, presents a Creative Learning Project as part of its program season. In just a few weeks, works by a trio of young composers—Gabriel Smallwood from Florence, South Carolina, Anthony Constantino from Tucson, Arizona and Thomas Reeves from New York City—will be performed live at Carnegie Hall on 5 February 2012, to be directed by David Robertson.

I caught up with Samantha Nemeth from Carnegie Hall to find out more about this project and how Sibelius has played a part in helping these young composers bring their music to the stage.

These projects are built around major pieces of repertoire like Bernstein’s Mass, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and Orff’s Carmina Burana. One of the main goals of these projects is to take a large group of New York City student performers and, in as many ways as possible, raise their performance to a professional level. The other main goal is to give students an opportunity to learn more about the featured repertoire through creating their own compositions that are connected in some way to the central repertoire.

“For our Carmina Burana Choral Project, we knew we were going to have an orchestra and chorus already assembled to perform Orff’s masterpiece. We thought this would be an ideal opportunity for three young composers to work with the same materials that Orff had when he wrote Carmina Burana. Conductor David Robertson, who has been involved with shaping this project, also recommended that our selected composers work with some of the same musical tools that Orff employed, namely static and rhythmic drones, hocketing and homophonic choral writing. We are sharing these new works with the young singers through blog posts and videos by the young composers and we have already started to see how meaningful it is for students to see their peers grappling with some of the same questions as Carl Orff.”

One of the other main collaborators for this project is composer Thomas Cabaniss. He has been mentoring the three young composers as they work on their new pieces. He explains why Carmina Burana was chosen as the stimulus for this project:

“It is tempting to think that high school musicians might be inspired by the history of Carmina Burana, or by its use of ancient texts, or even by the ways that its orchestral textures have been borrowed by Hollywood film composers for the movies. But it’s probably more accurate to say that young musicians—just like their older counterparts—are thrilled by the visceral impact.”

Samantha says, “In our first meetings with the young composers and also our first rehearsals with the 250-person choir, it has been the powerful, clear emotional impact of Carmina Burana that has proven most impressionable. If you listen closely to the newly composed works, you will hear that the three selected composers have all tapped into a strong emotional feeling in their work. For high school students, they are really laying it all on the line!”

Philip Rothman of New York Music Services has been preparing the parts to be used in performance, naturally using Sibelius—and each of the young composers was also already using Sibelius. I asked Samantha how Sibelius had fitted into the workflow of the project.

“When we started this project, we didn’t require the composers to use any specific software for their compositions,” she told me. “It turns out, though, that all three of the selected composers use Sibelius to notate and develop their works. Philip Rothman is a wonderful engraver and the transfer of the finished orchestral scores to him from the composers has proven to be a piece of cake. I never had to facilitate any conversations about which versions of the software the young composers were using, it all just worked out. So, I guess you could say that the Sibelius software has been invisible in a good way! We have been able to concentrate on supporting the creation of these new works and bringing them to life on the stage.”

The concert takes place at Carnegie Hall in New York City on 5 February. As of the time of writing, tickets are still available!

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