I am continuing to struggle with trying to get my Symphony No. 1 (subtitled Sinfonia Solenne) performed. The earlier, strings-only version was submitted last year to an Australian conductor to whom I was introduced (online) by a Facebook friend. This maestro seemed to have a favorable impression of the work, but was in the middle of preparing for a fully-booked season (that was my impression anyway); however on my last contact with him, about a year ago (November 2021 I believe), he had bad news: his orchestra was on "indefinite hiatus" due to mandatory mitigation measures against the pandemic. He said he would get back in touch with me "when the way forward is clear". Of course, "indefinite hiatus" is a very ominous phrase to use when describing a group of hungry (both physically and professionally) musicians, and given that their website has seen no activity in over a year (when last I checked), I have to assume that they have simply disbanded. I have heard nothing more from the maestro.

After I orchestrated the work this past spring, I learned of a municipal orchestra in my area that another FB friend had connections with, and after a quick exchange of emails, at his request I sent the conductor of that orchestra an MP3 of the work, a Sibelius / NotePerformer rendering (he did NOT ask for a copy of the score, strangely enough), and after a month of hearing nothing and a mention of this to my friend, the conductor wrote back with a peculiarly negative reaction: he said it had much merit, was reflective "in the best sense", was "not an anachronism" despite its Common Practice era roots (phew!), but that it "gave the impression of undirected musing", that the high points "just happened", and that the work needed "a more compelling trajectory". Most oddly of all, he compared it to 20th century "moment form", which I take it is a reference to the broken, episodic nature of some of Stockhausen's music and works in a similar style, and said that aspect of the work seemed to conflict with its Common Practice-based and very tonal idiom. I found that comment baffling as I cannot hear anything in my symphony that resembles, even formally, that kind of music - it is basically a continuously evolving web of closely-related themes and motifs, tied together by a unified tonal scheme.

Nevertheless, in reaction to this rejection, I've spent my (very limited) spare time since then fine-tuning the scoring, dynamics, and phrasing to try to make the work's structure more compelling and to give the texture greater clarity. In particular, I have much expanded the role of the timpani, given several more passages to the winds, and added brass at places where I felt it was appropriate. I've also lengthened the two major pauses in the work. I'm including, below, both a rendering of this version (Sibelius / NP, ~26 minutes) and a PDF of the draft score, for anyone who is interested.

And my question to anyone who cares to listen or peruse the score: is this work worth trying to get performed? Not being a professional musician, I also would appreciate any tips from the more experienced on how to make connections in the performing world (assuming you feel this piece is worth performing at all!). Thank you for reading this, and for listening.

Audio file

Score used for rendering

Edit: the MP3 is best downloaded and listened to using your playback software of choice, as Google Drive is very likely to quit playing at some random point.

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Replies

  • Hi Liz,

    I think a composer individually reaching out to groups to get a performance is largely a dead end. I've done that route too. A human connection is needed, and you likely cannot establish one this way (I couldn't). I have had my best success in getting live performances by joining my local composers group, The Baltimore Composers Forum, which has put me in contact with a number of music ensembles and which has lead to the most live performances of work than I was ever able to get on my own. I now get regularly performed.

    Best,
    Gav

    • Hi Gav,

      Thanks for your reply! But finding a composers group could be a problem. Do these groups meet online or only in person? The closest large metropolitan center that would have a composers group is Boston, and it's pretty far - I'm in central Vermont, very rural, quite remote from civilization. There are no composers groups here as far as I can tell. There are certainly composers, including one who lives just up the road from me and is known internationally. But he doesn't like this piece at all and is not going to be any help getting me in touch with an orchestra.

      It's quite true that my contact with the "nearby" orchestra (still in an adjacent state, not really local) was not a musician but a "friend of the orchestra" and the conductor's email included a rather dismissive comment that he was only willing to spend time listening to my piece because Brian was "a new friend of the orchestra", in other words, so as not to put him off. I received a very different reaction after being introduced to the Australian conductor by another composer who was a former classmate of his at University. But as I said, that conductor is now without an orchestra.

      Liz

  • Your conductor seems to me to be talking through his rear end in the sense of comparing the music to "moment form" as the work does seem to me to have some sort of logical progression and, as I've said before, is in general a noble and at times moving utterance which in my view does deserve to be performed. I find in general the orchestration to be effective in helping to more clearly delineate the different sections compared to the string version.

    Nevertheless, basing the whole work on the very well known DSCH motif is risky and if I'd done something similar, there's no doubt I'd have introduced more rhythmic variation and contrasts within the whole. As it is, I find it more of an elegy -- perhaps in the manner of Strauss Metamorphosen -- rather than a strictly symphonic work.

    From my correspondence with a multi award winning English composer of commercial music who has now made enough money to retire and focus on compositions that will "not appeal to the Mozart crowd", potential conductors are most likely to focus on the mock-up and are not in the first instance interested in the score (although I expect that varies a bit). It's questionable from this point of view if NotePerformer, with its fizzy strings, is really up to the job though it wouldn't necessarily put me off. Also I fear, like Gavin, that the only way it's likely to get performances is through personal contacts. Your style (and mine for that matter) goes against the still prevailing demand for novelty although I get the feeling -- perhaps wrongly-- that in the USA, there is more chance of works like yours being performed than in most European countries.

    • Hi David,

      Thanks for confirming what I was inclined to think, that the "moment form" comparison was probably a mindless reaction to something he heard in the piece that probably no one else would. Yes, the style of this work (though not the style of everything I write) is quite conservative and that could be a problem in today's musical world where novelty is prized above nearly everything else. The work was very specifically a reaction to our society seeming to lose its grip on rationality and respect for truth. If it's an elegy, it's an elegy for the Age of Reason, and that is the best explanation I can give for why it is so clearly based on Common Practice Era harmony.

      NotePerformer is a bit of a trade-off - as you said, the strings are often "fizzy" and harsh, though to what extent seems to vary from rendering to rendering. In fact, sometimes they sound very smooth. I suspect the effect is due to interference between individual synthesized "instruments" with their phases being not exactly random, so sometimes there is significant destructive interference between strings of the same section playing the same note. I think there is some random (but very narrow) spread in the pitches as well, part of Arne's trying to make the playback sound as much as possible like human performers, that probably contributes to the harshness. If it were sample libraries instead of synthesized waveforms, the effect could be avoided. But if it were me working with sample libraries using a DAW, I doubt if I could produce the almost human-like expressiveness of the NP voices without doing much more work than I'd be willing to do. NP works for my purposes - though there are other random flaws, timing errors that sound like scrappy ensemble, and often failures of legato lines to sound legato - I think this is again due to destructive interference causing apparent breaks between notes that are supposed to be played legato. Often I have to splice together many different renderings to get a mock-up that I'm satisfied with.

      Oddly, I didn't mention the use of the DSCH motif to this conductor and he didn't mention it in his comments, so my guess is that it wasn't a factor. I think he just had other submissions he liked better and was looking for reasons to justify rejecting mine.

      Liz

       

      • I take your points on NP -- in certain kinds of work, largely those with strong articulation and rhythmical contrasts, it can work very well. And it's possible the long-in-development v4 may significantly improve things. We'll just have to see.

        On DSCH, perhaps this conductor didn't even recognise it??

        As others have said, actually getting performed is to a large extent a matter of luck in getting someone to champion your work in a position to do something about it. It's far harder for a hobbyist without contacts in the professional music world to break through than others. And a style which is neither populist (like Karl Jenkins or the various species of minimalists) nor pretending to be novel seems particularly hard. One rare exception is Steve Elcock who spent decades writing for the bottom drawer while mainly focussing on his translation business until he was lucky enough that the proprietor of Toccata records just loved his work but it still required a significant financial outlay from him to get the first CD of a symphony recorded.Since then, various others have followed.

         

        • I'd be very surprised if any conductor didn't recognize DSCH, though I suppose it's possible, since the intervals are modified so much on its different appearances that in the end, it's really only the shape of the motif (and of its near-inversion) that survives intact. Still, its very last occurrence in the horn (final cadence) is pretty hard to miss. But he might not even have listened that far.

          I wouldn't argue with anything you have said about the difficulty of getting music that's not strikingly novel or in a popular idiom performed, but there have been very conservative composers in the last century who have gotten heard quite regularly - thinking of Robert Simpson specifically, and also Vagn Holmboe. Then again, Holmboe is one of the few who lucked out in the contest arena when his Second Symphony was plucked from the reject pile by the final judge, Egisto Tango. But Holmboe's symphony, though conservative in style for its time (late 1930s), has a very striking and arresting opening and lots of strong expression throughout, so it was bound to make an impression on someone. I've only had one "champion" for my symphony, a Boston composer whose only real contact in the orchestral world was this Australian conductor who is now orchestra-less. He has been trying to get me to write something for his choral group, and I may take him up on that. And we do have a local viola / piano duo that I'm pretty sure would play something of mine, and other local chamber performers. I'm certainly not giving up, but I'm beginning to realize that this symphony may very well end up relegated to obscurity.

          That said, I'm mulling over H. S.'s idea of adding a briefer, contrasting first movement, and the idea is not without its appeal. I think the model for this sort of thing would be Op. 111 rather than a Bachian "prelude and fugue" - the existing movement has too much non-fugal writing. A more striking, assertive opening might draw more attention than the symphony as it stands has. Whether I can integrate this idea into my vision of the work is a whole other question.

  • I think most of us feel your frustration as we all composed a piece of music we are firmly convinced is worthy of being performed (and very likely is) whereas it keeps being neglected and overlooked by the others. As an amateur composer whose music has been performed only once I definitely agree with Gavin: you need either human connections or an insane amount of luck (for instance, being noticed in a contest, which is like winning the lottery as you can read here: https://adamscottneal.com/about-calls-for-scores). Keep in mind your chances are also related to the country you live in and how florid, accessible and open-minded musical activities by local ensembles are.

    About Calls for Scores
    You’ve likely had a composition teacher encourage you to submit your music to “Calls for Scores.” These are announcements by presenting organizations…
    • Hi Gabriele,

      Yes, I don't really expect this work to win any awards in a contest - it's solid and expressive, but there is nothing new or catchy of flashy about it. I agree that I do need human contacts, but those are very difficult to form in such a remote locale as this. As I said, I do have a contact locally who might be helpful to get other works performed, but not this one.

      Kind regards,

      Liz

      • I've lost the exact reference, but I recently saw a call for scores that specified that the piece submitted had to be unperformed and that submissions must include an audio file of a performance of the piece.

        • That's funny! It sounds like an impossible ask, unless by "performance" they mean a computer rendering...

           

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