Winner of 2006 Underwood Emerging Composers Commission anticipates the premiere of her newly completed Resurrection, written for ACO with a few electronic surprises.
An Interview with Molly Sheridan
Orchestra Underground's second concert of the 2008-09 season takes place on Feb. 20 in Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall and repeats in Philadelphia at UPenn's International House on Feb. 22. On the program is a world premiere by Fang Man (Mandy Fang) titled Resurrection. Fang won the 2006 Underwood Commission after her work Black and White, Movement No. 1 was read by the orchestra in the Underwood New Music Readings.
Molly Sheridan spoke with Ms. Fang recently about her experience so far writing for the orchestra and the impact of this commission on her career.
Molly Sheridan: You seem to be writing work for orchestra now more than ever. What's attracting you to the ensemble these days?
Fang Man: Since last year, I don't need to take or teach classes at school, and so I mainly compose at home, which gives me the time and concentration to compose more pieces and for larger ensembles. I have been always interested in writing for the orchestra. As early as when I was in college, I spent more than a year writing a big piece for large orchestra with two soloists, even though there was absolutely no opportunity for me to have that piece performed. I guess it is because of my obsession with sound colors, and sound images that involve multiple layers. An orchestra offers a composer the most possibilities, just like giving a painter a big canvas and many kinds of oil colors to paint with.
MS: How does this fit with your interest in electronic music/technology?
FM: First of all, I think my interest in electronic music is also associated with my interest in sound colors. It opens up so many new opportunities for a composer even beyond an orchestra, which does not mean to replace an orchestra but to enhance the power of an orchestra. I believe strongly in electronic music and new technology. If we consider the 20th century a time of electronic music in the experimental era, perhaps the 21st century is the time for its blossom, thanks to the rapid development of new technology. So many new sounds and new ideas are waiting for us to discover them.
MS: What lessons did you take away from the ACO reading sessions in 2006?
FM: The ACO reading was the third time I worked with a big orchestra, which was after Minnesota and Orchestre National de Lorraine (France). So, I would say that I felt a little bit more relaxed and less surprised. To me, any experience/minutes working with an orchestra is precious, which always inspires my next piece and makes me want to write more for orchestra. Besides the reading, ACO arranged for us to speak with the conductors, composers, and some orchestra members, which was a quite useful experience. The only frustration I had is the time limitation for rehearsing the pieces. Since some composers write more complex music that demands more rehearsal time (I believe my style fits into this category), it was a little bit frustrating not having enough rehearsal time on the piece, but this seems to be a common problem for orchestras here. That limit on rehearsal time perhaps also affects the possibility to program some fantastic but complex pieces of the 20th century.
MS: How has your experience working with the ACO since winning that program's Underwood Commission impacted your understanding of/interest in the orchestral world, from both a business and artistic perspective?"
FM: The ACO commission is my first big commission, even though I had some small commissions for chamber music before. I gained some important experience communicating and working with a professional orchestra. With this great opportunity, my music is being introduced to a larger audience, for which I feel lucky and grateful. I've met some really wonderful composers over the years, whose names and works, however, are so little known. I do think that besides hard work, a little luck is important in one's career, but that is something we humans can't control.
As a composer, I never consider composing as a business; actually, I think it is a bit dangerous for an artist to think that way. I believe that the beauty of being an artist is to be not so realistic, just like Odilon Redon, a Symbolist painter whose mind and works I admire. He wrote in his journal, "Art suggests a flooding of the mind towards the dream-state directed by thought." And I agree with him completely about the importance of the sincerity of an artist, which is directly reflected in our works. To me, it would actually sound funny to think about how much money could be made by composing, which is obviously the wrong career choice for anyone wanting to make money.
MS: How do you handle the rehearsal and performance experience? That seems like a lot of pressure for a young composer!
FM: You are right. To handle the rehearsal and performance is not easy. I am always nervous at my rehearsals, especially the premiere of a piece. There is not much time to think, and a composer has to make the shortest yet most sufficient comments. But I think I am doing better than a few years ago. I remember the first time with the Minnesota Orchestra, I was too nervous to make any comments in the rehearsal. Now, I feel more comfortable, but still I hope to develop my skill of communication with the conductor and the musicians.
MS: If you had the power to change one thing about how orchestras do what they do, what would it be?
FM: I think I would program much, much more new music. I once overheard a manager say that new music has very little audience, particularly new orchestra music, and that's why they don't like to program it. I really don't believe that is true, as I believe in the curiosity of human nature. Even if it is true, shouldn't we change it? Perhaps we are so used to being in this strange cycle in which little new music equals little audience that it's resulted in even less new music equaling even less audience. I had the U.S. premiere of my orchestra piece Noir by the Peabody Symphony Orchestra in the fall this year. I was a bit surprised when many audience members came to talk to me and told me how much they enjoyed the piece. I believe that if everyone tried harder and introduced more new music to the general public, they would learn to appreciate it perhaps much more quickly than we thought. I admire ACO for consistently programming new music, which is truly wonderful and meaningful. I wish more orchestras could do that.
MS: When you consider your long-term artistic goals, what do you anticipate will be the impact of the work you've done with the ACO?
FM: I consider it to be the beginning of my professional career. The work I am writing for ACO involves a soloist, live electronics, and many new ideas I have never done this in my previous pieces. And I am fortunate to work with Derek Bermel, a clarinetist and composer, who is a good friend of mine, and has been offering invaluable advice throughout the process. So it has been exciting to work on the piece and will hopefully be exciting for the listeners as well.
As I begin my career, what affects me the most is a more serious attitude towards hard work and more criticism of my own works. If we look back the history of the great composers, almost every one of them has a handful of works for which they devoted all their life and passion. Listening to their music inspires me profoundly and stimulates my passion to continue on this uneasy road.
Molly Sheridan is the director of CounterstreamRadio.org and the managing editor of NewMusicBox.org, both programs of the American Music Center. She is also the host of Carnegie Hall's Sound Insights podcasts, and her writing appears in publications such as The Washington Post, Time Out New York, and on her ArtsJournal blog, "Mind the Gap."