23rd Annual Underwood New Music Readings: Composer Spotlight – Jared Miller

SoundAdvice sits down with Jared Miller, one of the composers selected to participate in ACO’s 23rd Annual Underwood New Music Readings on June 6 and 7, part of this year’s inaugural NY PHIL BIENNIAL celebration. His piece Contrasted Perspectives is inspired by the Surrealist art movement. 

American Composers Orchestra: What was the inspiration for your piece that will be read by ACO at the Underwood New Music Readings?  How has that been incorporated into the work?

Jared Miller: Largely a result of having access to New York’s great art museums (MOMA, the Met etc.), over the past couple of years, I have developed a real interest in the Surrealist paintings of the early twentieth century. Often inspired by the creator’s dreams, Surrealist art contains sharply juxtaposing images and ideas presented simultaneously in scintillating detail. Emotionally, this art invokes a multitude of reactions from me – ranging from mirth, to sorrow to sheer awe. Contrasted Perspectives attempts to explore this multiplicity. The first movement, “Dalí” is most significantly influenced by his famous painting “The Persistence of Memory.” I used the various colors, timbres and sonorities of the orchestra to depict the melting clocks and shimmering waves of desert heat pictured in his dream-like magnum opus (pictured above, courtesy of MOMA). “Fellini,” the second movement, deals with the idea of juxtaposition and was inspired by the famous Italian filmmaker. Taking bits of musical material from the first movement, I recast them in various musical styles – from Jazz, to quasi-Stravinsky, to an Italian-style opera overture – that overlap and segue into one another. The overall effect should be one of ordered chaos, as exemplified in this clip of Fellini’s 8 1/2.

ACO: What were your first thoughts when you were chosen to participate in these Readings, which are part of the inaugural NY PHIL BIENNIAL?

JM: I was walking down Broadway when I got the call and if memory serves correctly, I’m pretty sure I let out a fairly vocal “Woohoo!” (a la Homer Simpson, circa 1994) upon finding out. After the initial (and obvious…) excitement of the news, I took it as a true honor. The ACO was one of the first orchestras I’d ever heard in New York when attended the premiere of Chinese composer Fang Man’s Resurrection back in 2009. Since then, I have been consistently impressed with their stunning musicianship, innovative programming and fantastic artistic leadership under George Manahan. The opportunity to work with them seems unparalleled. I also cannot wait to hear my piece! I pushed myself to experiment with a lot of musical techniques and languages I wasn’t super-familiar with when I was writing it, so – like all of my fellow UNMR participants – I am very interested to hear the results of my efforts!

ACO: Since you were selected, have you further developed your piece? How have you been preparing yourself and your work for the Readings?

JM: When you write an orchestral piece, it can be challenging to make what you think will be effective changes to the written music if you haven’t heard it yet.  Since the first time I will be hearing Contrasted Perspectives will be at the UNMR, I didn’t change very much from the initial score I submitted in my ACO application. That said, I plan on going over the score after I’ve heard it and making changes to the piece based on what I’ve heard – especially if I am fortunate enough to have the piece performed again! Meanwhile, I’ve been going over the score and taking note of anything that might be unclear to the conductor or orchestral musicians so if questions happen to arise in the reading, I can answer them efficiently and effectively. 

ACO: During the Readings your work will be workshopped with George Manahan, mentor composers, and ACO musicians. What do you hope to gain from this experience?

JM: I hope to learn a lot from the experience. I consider it a great privilege to be able to work with musicians and a conductor who are very “at home” with new music. I believe the advice they will provide for me – especially regarding some of the unconventional playing techniques I’ve asked for – will be invaluable. Moreover, I am really looking forward to gaining the perspective of the four mentor composers. I respect all of them deeply as artists and as teachers so I think there will be a lot to be gained from their comments on my music.

ACO: Is there anything you’d like the the audience to know about your piece in advance? Anything you hope they take away from hearing it?

JM: One aspect of writing orchestral music that I absolutely love is infusing it with a sense of humor! I find this to be both creatively satisfying and artistically genuine. My piece – especially the second movement, “Fellini” – is meant to be light-hearted, so I hope this comes across to the listener. If I am lucky, the audience will be smiling and maybe even chuckling by the end of it!

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