I had a two-premiere week. For those not into classical music, a premiere is a big deal. It’s the moment a composer places his or her creation into the hands of a performer, and trusts that performer to share it with the world.
I’ve been a part of many premieres in my life. In college, our band premiered two pieces, one by David Maslanka, and one by William Hibbard. The Maslanka was an exuberant roller coaster ride that tested the endurance of our fingers. The Hibbard was a dense series of tonal snapshots that tested our breath capacity.
Rehearsals weren’t easy. We loved the blatant virtuosity of the Maslanka. Any given moment of any day, you could hear a trumpeter or clarinetist or horn player trying to burn some muscle memory into his or her fingers. We loved playing it as a large group and its energy always electrified us.
The Hibbard piece….well, let’s just say it was good for long tone practice. For the most part, we didn’t spend a lot of time rehearsing it, and most of us griped about its length (15 minutes), and lack of challenge on an individual level.
When we finally premiered the two works at a Band Convention in Colorado, the audience burst into an ecstatic standing ovation for Maslanka, while just barely clapping long enough to acknowledge Hibbard. In fact, it was awkward how little applause there was.
The thing is, by the time we performed those pieces, the Hibbard emerged as the complex, yet hauntingly gorgeous tone study that it was. My part was facially easy, but figuring out how my voice fit into the structures of the work took all my concentration. You can talk about whether music that needs so much mental energy is worth it. There are some composers who were thought to be “too intellectual,” “too busy,” or “too undisciplined.” Those composers are now revered.
A similar situation happened on my first professional job, a tour with the American Wind Symphony. It was the 200th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty, and the ensemble toured upstate New York on its way to the enormous celebration in New York City. Two composers, Jean Francaix and Alexander Tcherepnin, composed works for the group. I think we played the Francaix twice – at the official premiere, and on the day of the celebration – while the Tcherepnin became a staple of nearly every concert that summer. Again, it was awkward, because both composers were traveling with us for the events.
In my position with The Minnesota Opera, I have been part of the premiere of several operas, including The Shining, The Manchurian Candidate, Silent Night, and Dinner at Eight. Some of my most memorable premieres have been of works I commissioned. It’s a pretty awesome thing to have a piece created for me, and I have been lucky to love every work I’ve commissioned. I only wish I had a bunch more money to spend on new works.
I’m embarrassed to say I can’t remember too many premieres in my Omaha days before I left for college. I was likely there when my friend and classmate, David Batter (now the Director of Music and Liturgy at St. Columbkille and the founding conductor of the Omaha Chamber Singers), wrote a song for our weekly church gigs. I remember being super impressed that someone my age (my age!) had written a song.
My premieres this week were in Minnesota and Omaha. The Minnesota work, by Nick White, was for solo flute, and was a suite of pieces about the lives of three saints. The Omaha piece was by Z. Randall Stroope, and was performed by Sing Omaha. The work, Passage Home, was for choir, piccolo, and piano. Interestingly, the opening of the Stroope was similar to the opening of the White, which was part of the inspiration to write about it.
Since my early life in Omaha to now, music has taken me to some unpredictable places. I’m not only talking about the physical places, but creative ones. My career has included opera stars, pop music stars, huge venues, tiny stages, solo performances, chamber music, ballet, video game music, classic orchestral and opera works, and world premieres for one or 100 instruments. Some good gigs, some bad gigs, and some ridiculous gigs. Gigs that made me think or laugh or cry. It started in Omaha, and so it continues in Omaha. I’m doggone grateful for that.