Composer in Residence Sebastian Adams
Sebastian Adams, Composer in Residence 2016: Blog 3
I’m aiming to get my suite for the RTÉ Concert Orchestra finished in the next 20 days or so, although I have a bit longer before my deadline if I end up running into trouble.
The composition process for this piece is falling into a pattern that is becoming more and familiar to me: months and months of worrying and doing nothing, and then a short, frenzied period of real work! The doing nothing bit includes a bit of procrastination, but also a lot of heading down blind alleys:
When I wrote to you last, I said that I had written three movements of the suite in sketch form (out of four in total). Around the time of that last blog, I got very stuck – with no ideas and no idea where my ideas were going to come from!
I started looking at the great popular orchestral music of the past, trying to analyse them, looking for the secret ingredients that bound them together: Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony, the Peer Gynt suites, the Karelia Suite, and so on. A welcome outcome of this soul-searching was that I awoke a new appreciation for this school of music, lifting a slight and unsightly veil of snobbery (if everyone likes it, it must be crap – never a good thought to think!). This is music that’s direct, easy to understand, unselfconscious, and it loses none of the depth of expression that these composers access in their more serious music. An unwelcome outcome – the magic ingredient seemed to be nothing except brilliant material.
On that bombshell, I burned the sketches for two of my movements.
Now I had almost nothing – one sketch that I felt was 100% me, 100% what the orchestra want, and 100% one of my best things, but absolutely no idea where to go next. I was stuck at this point for about two months, and my mind was drawn again to the ghosts of Prokofiev and Grieg.
As the word Suite implies, most of the pieces in this genre used elements of dances as their backbones, although they were clearly not meant to be danced to! This is, I think, part of the reason why a popular suite is so difficult for a 21st-century composer. Not only are most of the languages we write in utterly incompatible with these dance forms (and by extension, with the genre of the orchestral suite), but these dances themselves have no relevance to contemporary culture! Why the hell would I write a jig for orchestra? Who actually wants to hear that?
Of course, while we don’t have dances in the classical sense, we certainly have dance music….. I concluded that the dance suite can be relevant, as long as we don’t mean the traditional version. The point of a popular suite is that it’s somehow universal, getting over the cerebral nature of classical music, removing the barriers for an untrained ear, and there’s certainly plenty of music around now that fulfills a similar function.
A little known fact about me is that despite my very classical background, I actually got into composition by writing electronic dance music (or at least my own version of it). When all seemed lost, the music I wrote as a teenager came to save me.
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