Writing a symphony in 2014 is like saying to yourself, “I know, why don’t I pursue a project that guarantees the least possible public reward and requires the greatest amount of time, ambition, and concentration.” And yet, that’s what I’m doing.
I’ve got one movement finished (which I’ll premiere with my YO at the end of March) and, admittedly, writing it has been a thrill, though it’s kept me up many a night. The movement I’ve got now is the genuine article, as Sonata-Allegro as they come, complete with Introduction, Exposition, Development, Recap, and Coda to boot.
It’s a shame that our prestige composers no longer deign to flatter a common form as they once did, especially one as rich as the symphony. Perhaps I’m just simple, or reactionary, or lacking in invention, but for me, working within this framework has posed an infinity of choices, enough to suggest that there’s enough variety in the form to engage better composers.
But who cares? Therein lies the rub. I’m starting to figure out that one of my life’s big projects is to create a new audience for intelligent orchestral music. By intelligent, I mean music that weaves together strands of traditional, academic, and vernacular styles into a unified language that appeals to the large body of educated music listeners who seek out new indie rock and hip-hop for get their major musical statements.
And by orchestral, I actually mean orchestral – not just New Music Ensemble music expanded to the size of the symphony orchestra. Music that shows the unique properties of the modern orchestra (and the musicians therein) to their best advantage.
“The Goldfinch” (which, do yourself a favor and just read it already if you haven’t yet) is a hell of a novel, brimming with memorable characters, set pieces, and philosophy. If Donna Tartt can succeed in writing a novel that manages to be thoroughly contemporary and to respect the form’s heritage at the same time (and she very much has), then I might as well take a stab at doing something similar with a symphony.
So please, somebody, just keep orchestras alive another fifty years and I promise you I’ll create a listening public eager to hear new symphonies in the concert hall. K?