Orchestra Underground: Lines On A Point Composer Spotlight – David Lang

Composer David Lang  Photo: Peter Serling

statement to the court, composed by David Lang, co-founder of Bang on a Can and Carnegie Hall’s Debs Composers’ Chair for 2013-2014, will be performed by The Crossing chamber choir and American Composers Orchestra at ACO’s Orchestra Underground: Lines On A Point concert on Thursday, February 20 at Zankel Hall, Carnegie Hall. In this interview, David Lang sheds light on the challenges he faced in composing statement to the court, the dedication of his work to Frances Richards, ASCAP, and what he is most looking forward to at the upcoming performance! 

ACO: What was your composition process for your piece statement to the court
David Lang: The text is from a famous political speech, delivered by the American socialist Eugene Debs, upon his conviction for sedition, for advocating that the United States stay out of the first World War.  I wanted to capture the rhythm of the speech, the power of it, but also something of the direct 4/4 agit-protest march rhythm appropriate to its world. I listened to a bunch of labor and protest songs before I wrote it, and I still can almost hear them in the background.
ACO: Did you encounter any unusual challenges in writing this work? If so what were they and how did you resolve them? 
DL: The greatest challenge I had to deal with was how to use the text to model the relationships between the chorus and the orchestra.  Choirs and orchestras are hierarchical – there are rules and relationships about how the music is normally made, and I wondered if I could change some of them, so that the relationships would be more in the spirit of the text.  So I came up with what I thought would be a more democratic way to define all the society of musicians – everyone sings almost everything together, the strings double almost everything the singers sing, so they feel like equals, and there are many short vocal solos that are supposed to be divided equally among the voices, so that everyone can be valued as a community member and as an individual as well. 
ACO: Your composition is dedicated to Frances Richard, ASCAP, who is also being honored at this Orchestra Underground performance. Can you tell us more about this dedication and the impact that Frances has had in her work with ASCAP? 
DL: I love Fran, and I have loved Fran for as long as I have known her.  She is one of the most passionate, opinionated, fire-breathingly political people that I know.  It seemed right to dedicate this piece to her.
ACO: What are you looking forward to about the performance of your piece at Carnegie Hall by the American Composers Orchestra? 
DL: I am very excited about this concert.  My piece uses music to explore a moment in American political history.  What more fitting group should play it than the American Composers Orchestra?

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