One of the great privileges of working in Interlochen in the summer is rubbing elbows with wonderful musicians from many different areas of the music world. One of those privileges is preparing and performing new music that our composition faculty has created for ensembles here at Interlochen. Over the last couple of years I've developed a deep friendship with Dr. Peter Terry, a wonderful composer and musician who teaches Electronic Music Composition here. This summer, the Intermediate Concert Orchestra is privileged to perform the world premiere of his new work for string orchestra, Ancient Light. Dr. Terry came to our rehearsal yesterday to give us some insights into the work after we had spent a number of days framing the piece and getting ready for his input.
We began our time with Dr. Terry by asking him to respond to an incredibly light question that I had asked all the students earlier in the rehearsal. What exactly is your favorite dessert and why? I have found over the years that simple conversations like this are often wonderful ice breakers and yesterday was no different. I think the question threw him for a little bit of a curve-ball and he took a moment to consider the answer. After a few moments of thought, he let us know that tiramisu is his favorite and that it was because his family had a number of traditions around this dessert. This provided a wonderful segue into our work for the day on his composition. Immediately, he had a connection with kids and they were now ready to hear what he had to say about the new work.
I then asked him to tell us just a little bit about the title and the ideas behind the work. He explained that Ancient Light refers to the to a common interest that he and his father shared in astronomy and looking at the night sky. He was always aware when engaged in this activity that the lights that he was seeing in the stars were generated millions of years ago. The things that we see in the night sky may not even exist anymore. The magnitude of that idea is reflected in this piece. He also explained that the piece is inspired by thoughts and feelings related to family (especially his father) and the depth of that relationship and related experiences like the time they spent studying the stars.
We continued by playing the piece for him and asking for his input. The composition features 4 sections and is in A-B-A-B form. It floats between E minor and G Major and I would call it about a Grade IV.
The A section is a bold Allegro in 3 with a driving rhythmic underpinning. He explained that the rhythmic underpinning must have a heroic feel. It is actually a "bravura" section and he wanted the students to give it an almost march-like, military drive. This resonated with the kids and they immediately made the adjustment. Additionally, there is a rhythmic, syncopated , marked melodic figure in the other voices. He asked for very short releases at the end of these short phrases and it provided a greater sense of urgency in this rhythmic passage. I always find that having a new voice in a rehearsal yields great results and this was certainly the case. The way Dr. Terry made his points resonated with the kids and they seemed to internalize the idea behind these passages.
Next, we dug a little deeper into the primary melodies of the piece and the way they interact with each other. He noted that each time the primary motive enters in a new voice, it should be somewhat intrusive to the other voices. Again, that word intrusive really resonated with the kids. They were able to execute this almost immediately and it transformed the impact of the piece in those places .
Next we spent some time in the more lyrical B sections of the piece. Each of these sections is very chorale-like and requires a totally different approach. We looked at the greater dynamic scheme of each of these sections and noted that they grow continuously through two statements of the entire chorale. They reach an apex on the final stanza which is then followed by a hushed, brief reprise. As we looked closely at this dynamics scheme, the musical line of this section became so much more perceptible.
As we moved through the rehearsal, you could feel the energy grow and the excitement for the piece intensify. By the end of the rehearsal there was incredible life in the work and the students were quite engaged and committed. The rehearsal ended with Dr. Terry giving a wonderful charge to the students regarding the privilege of performing a world premiere. He sent them into our last few rehearsals with an inspired challenge to truly own the work and to realize that there is only ever one World Premiere of a work. Intermediate Concert Orchestra gets to experience that and no one else will ever have that experience. What a wonderful challenge! I have no doubt that this will be one of the most meaningful musical experiences of these young musicians' lives.
I want to extend my deepest thanks to Peter. I value our friendship so much and truly enjoy out all of our musical collaboration. This is the third world premiere that I have conducted for one of his compositions. (Blindsighted and Beneath the Irish Sky, Carl Fischer Publications) I consider it one of the great honors of my musical life and my work at Interlochen.
This concert will take place on Wednesday, July 26th at 6:30 p.m. in Corson Auditorium on the Interlochen campus. It will be available via live stream as well.