Orchestra Underground: Lines On A Point Composer Spotlight – Amy Beth Kirsten

Composer Amy Beth Kirsten
Beginning with a poem, composer Amy Beth Kirsten has transformed it into her composition, strange pilgrims, which will have its world premiere at American Composers Orchestra’s Orchestra Underground: Lines On A Point concert on February 20 at Zankel Hall, Carnegie Hall. Along with music, strange pilgrims, will also feature a video by Mark DeChiazza. In this interview, find out how this collaboration came about and the journey that Amy Beth has taken in composing her work strange pilgrims.
American Composers Orchestra: What inspired your composition strange pilgrims? How would you describe your composition process? 
Amy Beth Kirsten: Actually, reflecting on the idea of composing inspired the poem and the music for the piece. I wrote the poem when I was just finishing up an evening length theater piece for the chamber group, eighth blackbird, that was incredibly challenging to compose; it was a process that was more collaborative than anything I’d done before and it required making many sketches and rewrites (over the course of a few years) as well as composing about forty minutes of music that, in the end, I decided not to use in the final piece. I pushed myself harder and further than ever before and, in the end, made something I’m super satisfied with. During this three-year long journey I often felt a very strong spiritual pull and meditated quite a lot throughout. The poem for strange pilgrims is a reflection on this process. I sent the poem to Mark DeChiazza (whose stage direction was an essential part of making the eighth blackbird piece) and we started talking about the possibility of working together (again!) – the idea for the music/video project blossomed from there. I decided to dedicate strange pilgrims to my beloved, Christopher Theofanidis, who is also a composer, because we often talk together about making new art and what it means to us personally and spiritually. 

Credit: Mark DeChiazza

ACO: Did incorporating the video have any impact on your piece? 
ABK: One of most challenging things was that the text and the music for the piece came first (before I knew what the images looked like). Mark and I intuit each other’s imaginations very easily so that helped a lot; he described the images that he was thinking of and how the video might interact with the music. Because I’ve never incorporated video before, it was a leap of faith that I’d be able to compose music that left enough room for the images to have a definitive presence in the piece. We aimed to structure the music and the video to have a kind of symbiotic relationship. I’ll be seeing the final piece a few hours before the audience does, and that’s pretty thrilling to me! 
ACO: As this upcoming performance will be the world premiere of strange pilgrims is there anything you are most looking forward to in hearing it performed lived by American Composers Orchestra and The Crossing chamber choir? 
ABK: I’m really curious to hear what several sections of the music sound like; these are sections that use an interpretive kind of music notation and so far I’ve only been able to approximate the sound for myself. I’m also looking forward to the rest of Mark Andrew’s (director of photography) incredibly moving images and to see what Mark DeChiazza created with them. It’s especially rewarding to be an alumna of the ACO Readings and come back and work with this fine orchestra on something new, as well as to work with The Crossing for the first time. I feel incredibly honored to be included on a concert that features David Lang, Steve Reich, and Ted Hearne; these are composers whose music I’m crazy about and who have long influenced my musical thinking. I’ll also be cheering for Lisa Coons who has a world premiere that evening as well. So all in all, it’ll be a pretty exciting night!

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