|Composer Jonathan Bailey Holland
|For composer Jonathan Bailey Holland, participating in the upcoming Detroit Symphony EarShot Classical Roots Readings will be a continuation of his professional relationship with the DSO, which stretches back to the tenure of former music director Neeme Jarvi in the early 1990s. Find out in this Q&A with Jonathan how the landmarks of the city of Chicago inspired his composition Shards of Serenity, which will be read at the upcoming Readings on March 9.
American Composers Orchestra: What was the inspiration for your composition? How have you taken this inspiration and incorporated it into your work that will be read at the Detroit Symphony EarShot Classical Roots Readings?
Jonathan Bailey Holland: Commissioned by the Chicago Sinfonietta in partnership with the Chicago Architectural Foundation, Shards of Serenity is one of four movements that make up the work ChiScapes, a collaborative composition celebrating the architectural landmarks of the city of Chicago. In addition to my composition, ChiScapesincludes movements composed by Armando Bayolo, Christopher Rogerson and Vivian Fung – each movement corresponding to a different building. The Chicago Sinfonietta premiered the work on June 8, 2013, with Mei-Ann Chen conducting. The landmark that I chose was Mies van der Rohe’s Crown Hall, on the campus of IIT. Many who have actually been inside of the structure comment on the serenity experienced both inside and out. I can imagine feeling serene in such a large, open structure in which natural light streams through the ceiling to floor windows that envelope the entire building. Undoubtedly light streams in through all of the windows at various times of day in many different ways. With no internal walls to direct the journey through the building, a visitor would likely be forced to confront their physical location and presence at whatever location they found themselves within the building. Perhaps initially one’s attention would be drawn upwards since the glass at eye level is translucent, while the glass above eye level is transparent. And, again at least initially, I would imagine there is a moment of disorientation – an uncertainty about where to focus. Eventually a visitor would find their bearings, creating their own personal experience in the space. Shards of Serenity is a sonic representation of this type of experience, with the sounds being inspired by the physicality of the open space.
ACO: Since you have been chosen to participate in these Readings, have you furthered developed your composition? How have you been preparing yourself and your work for the Readings?
JBH: I have ideas for expanding the work, but I have not yet had the time to do so. I hope to return to it someday in the near future. As for preparing for the reading, I am looking forward to returning to work with the Detroit Symphony. I had several pieces performed by them during Neeme Jarvi’s tenure as music director there. In 1993, I participated in the Unisys African American Composers Competition and National Forum. My work Martha’s Waltz was one of the finalist compositions, and while I didn’t win, Maestro Järvi took a liking to my music. Two years later I came back as a co-composer in residence with the Unisys program (along with Anthony Davis), composing a concert opening work, visiting several Detroit area schools, and serving on a panel discussion with other composers and artists, including Nikki Giovanni. In 2003, when the newly updated and expanded Max M Fisher center opened, my work Motor City Dance Mix was the very first work performed at the gala opening. The Detroit Symphony has been a major part of my compositional career and development, and I am excited to return after many years.
ACO: During the readings your work will be workshopped with the help and guidance of Detroit Symphony music director Leonard Slatkin, mentor composers, and DSO musicians. What do you hope to get out of this experience?
JBH: The opportunity for feedback from Maestro Slatkin and the mentor composers is a great opportunity. As a composer, it is hard to get perspective on your own music, and the opportunity to have other knowledgeable and experienced ears hear and assess my work is necessary.
ACO: Your composition will be read live to the public during the Readings. Is there anything about the piece that you would like the audience to know about before hearing it?
JBH: I would hope that the audience knows the story behind the creation of the work and the connection to Mies van der Rohe, but even if they don’t, I believe the music will hold it’s own.
ACO: You will also taking part in the professional development workshops during the Readings. Is there anything specific that you hope you will learn from attending these workshops?
JBH: I love writing for the orchestra, and while I have been fortunate enough to have works performed by various orchestras, I have many artistic ideas that I would like to bring to fruition and share with orchestras and audiences, as well as sharing my pre-existing work. As an educator and composer and generally busy person, the opportunities for focus solely on my own professional development are less frequent than I would like. Hopefully these workshops will generate ideas for how do more of all of this.