Composer Saad Haddad participated in the 2013 Underwood New Music Readings with his piece Maelstrom, as well as the 2015 Columbus Symphony Readings with his piece Kaman Fantasy. During the 2015 SONiC Festival, ACO premiered Saad’s Manarah, about which New York Classical Review wrote, “Haddad’s intriguing textures made the night’s most arresting listening.”
Saad spoke to SoundAdvice about his EarShot experience, with some words of advice.
|Composer Saad Haddad|
American Composers Orchestra: What impact did your experience at the Underwood New Music Readings have on your career and voice as a composer?
Saad Haddad: My year of Underwood Readings seems like such a long time ago, although they took place just three years ago. Those readings were my first taste of what life might be like as a ‘professional’ composer. At the time, I was just elated to be in the room with established composers like Joan Tower and Christopher Theofanidis, while experiencing the week with composer colleagues that were all older and more experienced than I was. I was the baby in the room at 20 years old workshopping Maelstrom, a 7-minute raunch of an opener that I wrote at 19 while studying at USC. More than anything else, that workshop gave me the confidence to keep going on my path of orchestral writing, that I do belong in the room and that continued hard work will keep me there.
ACO: Just this spring, your ACO commission, Manarah, was premiered by George Manahan and Orchestra Underground at Carnegie Hall. What knowledge from the Underwood Readings were you able to take with you to rehearsals for the premiere?
SH: I knew from the Underwood Readings that the musicians themselves picked up the music quickly, as long as it was notated in an absolutely clear way. There were some things I could have done better at the readings that I think I executed with much more care during the process of preparing Manarah for rehearsal. First off, the parts were meticulously edited, sometimes reprinted up to ten times, especially the strings. There’s nothing that I loathe more than musicians asking me what I meant in their parts — to me, that just simply means I didn’t work hard enough to take the necessary steps to ensure that those questions don’t arise. The less confusion there is, the smoother the rehearsals will go. Of course, everything is a learning experience, so I make sure immediately after a performance of a work, including Manarah, that the necessary edits are made while the piece is still fresh in my mind.
ACO: Kaman Fantasy was workshopped and premiered at the Columbus Symphony Readings in 2015 and recently won the Palmer Dixon Award for best composition written at the Juilliard School. Congratulations! Do you think the workshops helped bring the piece to the level needed to win the award?
SH: It was just a thrill to hear Kaman Fantasy under the leadership of a conductor like Rossen Milanov, who I can tell understood my music and delved into it like it was a work that he has always known. EarShot, along with the Columbus Symphony, were able to fashion me a recording of the work, which was part of the requirement of entering this piece into the Palmer Dixon contest at Juilliard. They definitely brought it to a level that I never dreamed possible. ACO’s ambitious EarShot program makes it a reality for orchestras around the country to feel how music by living composers can be integrated into their communities and invigorate the art form in their own halls, forming a lasting impact on how orchestras fit this new repertoire into future seasons.
ACO: What do you think is most beneficial about the Readings for up-and-coming composers?
SH: The chance to hear your music played by an orchestra of this caliber is always a special occasion, no matter where a composer might be in his or her career. For these readings in particular, the chance to hear your music performed alongside colleagues (that quickly become friends!) from all around the country is what sets this program apart. In a sense, you learn more from the other participating composers than just about anyone else simply because you’ll be spending the most time with these new friends who are all just as driven to learn the ropes as you are.
ACO: What advice would you give this year’s seven participants, both for the readings and beyond?
SH: Take all the advice you hear at these readings, make lots of notes on your scores, and remember that if you want to make revisions, do not wait. This is your chance to hear your music played live by a professional orchestra. Not many composers have an opportunity like this so take advantage of it while you are there. There’s nothing more disheartening than feeling like you could have done more the week after it’s all over! Be bold, be yourself, and never stop learning.