Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute Composer Spotlight – Composer Tobin Chodos

Composer Tobin Chodos
Composer, jazz pianist, and University of California, San Diego doctoral student Tobin Chodos took part in American Composers Orchestra’s Jazz Composers Institute Earshot La Jolla Symphony New Music Readings last week at his home campus’ Mandeville Auditorium. His piece Control Flow explored musical control, hierarchies, and stratification within an orchestra. Before the readings, Tobin wrote to us about the possible challenges that could arise in the reading of his work because of the differences between a jazz musician’s and an orchestra’s concept of rhythm and timing, as well as what it means to him to have the opportunity to compose for a symphony orchestra.     
American Composers Orchestra: How did you find out about JCOI and what made you want to apply to the Institute?
Tobin Chodos: I learned about it in a mailing from the Center for Jazz Studies at Columbia University.
ACO: What inspired you to compose the piece that you submitted to JCOI?
TC: Because the orchestra has so many instruments in it, and because it contains so many implicit musical stratifications, when I started writing for it all I could think about was the notion of musical control – the composer’s control over the score, the conductor’s over the orchestra, the section leader’s over his stand mate, as well as the music’s control over the listener.  So this piece tries to encourage the contemplation of these hierarchies in various ways.
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?
TC: Mainly I studied other orchestral scores, but I also had a huge amount of help from other composers – faculty and peers – with more experience writing for the orchestra than I had.
ACO: What do you hope to work on during JCOI?
TC: I’m just beginning to get situated in the music department here at UCSD, but I’m in the early stages of putting together a collaborative of composer-performers that will, ideally, play and write together regularly for the duration of my time here.
ACO: Do you foresee any challenges during the workshopping and reading of your piece?
TC: There are a handful of passages that are pretty intricate rhythmically, and I’m a little afraid they might not come off convincingly. A big part of what is difficult, I think, for a composer with a jazz background writing for the orchestra is in the different conceptions of rhythm. There are, I think, significant differences between the way an orchestra and a jazz musician conceives of time.
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? If not, how do you feel about having this opportunity to work with a symphony orchestra through JCOI?
TC: I haven’t had the chance to work with an orchestra before, I and am tremendously grateful and honored to have been given the opportunity. I expect that there is a lot of room for improvement in my orchestration, and in my ability to write in a way that is both creative and idiomatic to the instruments (and to the orchestra itself).  I’m sure that after hearing the orchestra play my work, I will see many things I could have done differently, and will probably be eager to try again.
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?
TC: It’s difficult to say what it means to me as a jazz musician. I think it would be a wrong to look at this as a chance to prove to the Euro-American musical establishment that “jazz musicians can do the orchestra too.”  That would be a little vindictive, and more importantly it would accept implicitly the idea of the orchestra as the ultimate measuring stick for judging a composer’s abilities, which is an idea that I think most people have left behind these days.  Probably what is interesting about these pieces won’t have much to do with genre, but with the fact that most of us don’t come from the kinds of institutions where orchestral performances are common.
ACO: What do you hope the audience attending the new music readings will get out of hearing your piece?
TC: I hope that the music encourages people to think about the hierarchies that are an inherent part of the orchestra– or at least to see that I was thinking about them while I was writing the music.  These hierarchies come from a particular time and place, and reflect a set of attitudes that, I think, are worth thinking about in the 21st century.

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