Symphony No. 1 – A Blog: Artistry vs. Pragmatism

May 30, 2013: As I alluded to last week, progress on movement one has been going quite well ever since I broke through my creative block. In fact, I can happily state that I have completed a fully orchestrated draft of said movement. Two down, one to go!

I have been a bit coy regarding any details on this movement. By comparison, I offered up an orgy of material for the third (or, the movement-formally-known-as-the-fourth) movement! I aim to change that today, by providing both a PDF of the draft, as well as an audio recording of the MIDI for your listening pleasure and/or torture – depending on your opinion of MIDI. The usual warnings regarding MIDI apply – some sounds are not represented in the playback – specifically in the percussion, glissandi are not represented accurately, balance is not correct, resonance is not accurate, etc., etc. You have been warned!

PDF – Symphony No. 1 Draft

This first movement (tentatively titled “Thought Process”) is designed to work as a stand-alone movement. In other words, if an orchestra decided that the whole symphony was too much to program they could instead program this one work. Thus, in the interest of getting this movement performed I am shining the spotlight on it- just in case any erstwhile conductors stumble upon this blog!

Along those same lines, I made a couple conscious changes to the instrumentation of this movement. Specifically, I removed the harp and the piano. Yes – that means that in a performance of the whole symphony those players will be tacet for the movement. This decision was a pragmatic one – there are many mid-tier orchestras that simply don’t employ a harpist or pianist, and so in order to help facilitate the programming of this one piece I eliminated them. I understand this might cause a bit of grumbling, but at least those two instruments don’t have to worry about going out of tune while waiting!

I recognize that this decision came about from my desire to see this piece performed, rather than one of pure artistry. When creating music – and especially music for large ensembles – I inevitably have to ask myself whether or not the music I am writing is performable not so much in terms of difficulty, but rather in terms of how easy the work is to program (the issue of difficulty can be quite relevant as well, depending on the ensemble – however, this is a slippery slope that needs to be monitored carefully, less too many decisions are made that sacrifice the quality of the work). With the orchestra this is especially relevant, as more and more orchestras simply can’t afford to hire any additional players beyond what the orchestra regularly employs. So, while on an artistic level I might “hear” a wide variety of harp and piano colors in my work, on a purely practical level I have to question whether or not those colors should come at the sacrifice of getting the piece performed. This is something that I struggle with, and I imagine I am not alone.

I like to think that the compromise I came up with represents the best-of-both-worlds. One movement is easier to program than the others, and likewise can be programmed on its own should an ensemble choose to go that route. I still have the harp and piano available for the other two movements, which more than satisfies my need for a broader pallet of color. Besides, any orchestra that decides to invest in my 21+ minute work will (hopefully) choose to also invest in having a full compliment of players.

So, with this draft complete I only have the second movement left before I have a full draft of the entire work. I already have a very clear concept  for this movement, so – if all goes well – I will have a full sketch available by my next post. Just a courtesy note: due to some travel commitments, my next post will be a bit later than normal. Look for it in about a week-and-a-half.

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