11 September 2016

Windy & Sky-Wheely

So, part of the story of The Wind, the Sky, & the Wheeling Stars . . . in the days when the company where I work was a subsidiary of A Large Bank, I knew a chap named Wendell (still with the bank, I believe) and he was taking part in a sort of external workshop or seminar, and another participant was Yoichi Udagawa, who conducts the Quincy Symphony. Wendell brought us two in contact, and Yoichi asked me to write a piece for the Quincy Symphony; I still remember meeting Yoichi in a Dunkin Donuts in Cambridge, not far from Alewife station. (No, there are not many Dunkin Donuts visits which stand out in my memory.) This must have been in the fall of 1999; the concert would be February of 2000. I should emphasize the kindly confidence that Yoichi placed in me; or, how kind it was of him to adopt the self-confidence which I projected. At that time, I had only wished to write for orchestra, had never actually done it; so this was my baptism by fire.

The work went reasonably quickly, as I recall;  certainly comfortably within the timeframe decided with Yoichi. When the piece was finished, I was happy to own it all compositionally; there was a passage or two where (as it turned out) I needed to write what I wanted better for the instruments, but this did not reach my attention until some while after the first performance. I also remember delivering hard copy of the score to Yoichi's apartment one windswept evening in (probably) October; I remember this all the more readily because it accorded so nicely with the piece's title.

Details of why elude me now, many years later, but there was a passage of which Yoichi was unconvinced, and a cut was required. Even though (then, no less than now) I believed completely in the music to be cut, I complied, and recomposed a measure or two to accommodate the requested excision. (That cut did not coincide with the material I mentioned above, which needed repair.) In writing about this now, I do not mean to seem to rail against any artistic injustice;  I am only recording the history. So the full piece is 12 minutes in duration, and maybe with the cut, the piece ran ten minutes and a half (let us guess).

At the time, I was working in Finale (perhaps Finale 1998? No knowing, now), and the endgame of cleaning up the layout of extracted parts for a large score was nightmarish. (I'd like to mitigate this by proposing that the problem lay in its being the first large score I needed to perform this operation with; but in the following years, with other large scores and more flight time logged with Finale, it always remained dogsbody work, and eventually that was why at last I tried Sibelius, which after very a surprisingly brief learning curve proved much easier to work with, and with better-looking results.) So as a performer myself, I was a little nervous about what the players' experience in working on the piece would be. I was highly interested in attending rehearsals, to see (for instance) if there were any changes I might need to make. But everyone was a little nervous about having the composer present when there were still notes to be learnt; and (not at all unusually for the Boston area) at least one weekly rehearsal was lost to a snowstorm.

In the event, then, it was only the dress rehearsal which I was able to attend, and although there were some rough aspects, it would not at all have been the time for me to make suggestions. The performance, I am pleased to report, was a good advance upon the dress rehearsal. I do not recall if I received a recording; it would have been a cassette tape, and it is now more than a decade since I listened to (or had the gear to listen to) a cassette. What I suspect is that, since the performance was of a cut version which I would not endorse for any subsequent performance, if I did have a recording, it was not one which I was apt to make generally available.

Sometime later, more than a year, less than ten years, later . . . I was looking at the score, and realized that there were some passages (i.e., a passage in the exposition, and which was largely repeated in a recapitulation) where the writing for the low strings was impossibly busy. And my first thought was, this must have been problematic in the rehearsals for the first performance, but I heard nothing about it, and so could not offer the composer's sanctioned solution to the problem. It was both impossibly busy, and unnecessarily busy, so I found an easier and a playable way to get what I wanted from the low strings in those passages. Those changes were reflected in the March 2015 Sibelius version of the score; and I have now just made some minor adjustments here and there (most notably, improving the writing for the optional harp part).

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