Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute Composer Spotlight – Composer Miya Masaoka

Miya Masaoka and Koto (with bow and electronics)
Miya Masaoka’s composition Other Mountain was read at Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute La Jolla Symphony New Music Readings on September 19 and 20 at the University of California San Diego’s Mandeville Auditorium. In response to our questions, Miya wrote back to us about not only the challenges of writing for a symphony orchestra but also the opportunity that it affords her as a composer.

American Composers Orchestra: How did you find out about JCOI and what made you want to apply to the Institute?  
Miya Masaoka: A few years ago, I was interviewed by Vijay Iyer under the auspices of JCOI.

ACO: What inspired you to compose the piece that you submitted to JCOI? 
MM: Working with the large forces of an orchestra has always been a dream of mine, and it has proved to be enormously challenging and already rewarding, even without hearing the piece. Writing for a symphony orchestra, I had to think differently about instruments, and rethink texture and density of sound, and quality, timbre of sound, what is possible and what isn’t. In other words, everything I knew was WRONG, and I had to turn my brain and soul inside out. I feel like I have been through a wrecking ball tunnel, but have survived and come out the other end. 

ACO: After you found out that you were accepted to JCOI, how have you prepared yourself and your piece for the music readings that will take place?
MM: I have been answering a few email questions from the conductor and some of the orchestra section leaders. 
ACO: What do you hope to work on during JCOI? 
MM: I can’t wait I think I will learn about a real practical side to writing for an orchestra.  And hearing my ideas being realized is such an honor, such a fabulous, life-changing opportunity. 
ACO: Do you foresee any challenges during the work shopping and reading of your piece? 
MM: I’m more familiar writing for smaller ensembles, of course, so the challenges have to do with the element of rehearsal time.  There is very little rehearsal time with an orchestra, so any confusion or questions about the score must hopefully be resolved before hand via email.   But on the other hand, why write a piece, if it’s not going to be interesting, and it’s not going to be something different and new?  But it can’t be THAT DIFFERENT and THAT new so that there would be too much to explain to the orchestra players, since there is so little rehearsal time.  A real balance has to be struck.  A chamber musician and an orchestral musician can be as different as apples and oranges. 
ACO: What do you hope to get out of this experience at JCOI and working with the La Jolla Symphony? Have you worked with a symphony orchestra before? 
MM: I have only worked with a symphony as a guest performer on the Japanese koto, notably with the Berkeley Symphony, and two other symphonies on the West Coast. 
ACO: What does this experience mean to you as a jazz composer? What would you like to say to other jazz composers who may be interested in applying to JCOI?

MM: For me, this is the greatest opportunity that any composer, jazz or otherwise could ever have.  I cannot stress that enough. 

ACO: What would you like to say to other jazz composers who may be interested in applying to JCOI? 
MM: Please apply, because if you don’t apply, you won’t have any chance of winning. IF you apply, even if you don’t get it, you might get inspired to enter other competitions for readings. 

ACO: What do you hope the audience attending the new music readings will get out of hearing your piece? 
MM: I hope they find it interesting and different, and that they would want to hear more of what this composer does.

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