Underwood New Music Readings – Composer Spotlight: Nick DiBerardino

Composer Nick DiBerardino (b. 1989) is a Rhodes Scholar, called a “bright young star” and a “first-rate talent” by the Portland Press Herald, with awards from Portland Chamber Music Festival Composition Competition, soundSCAPE, and Connecticut’s Westport Arts Advisory Committee. Nick’s orchestral music has been programmed by the Curtis Symphony Orchestra, Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, and Minnesota Orchestra, and he is currently composer-in-residence at Luzerne Music Center. Nick has studied at Princeton University, University of Oxford, Yale School of Music, and is currently pursuing a Post-Baccalaureate Diploma in composition at the Curtis Institute of Music, where he teaches at the Young Artist Summer Program.

Nick’s piece Mercury-Redstone 3 was selected for the 2017 Underwood New Music Readings, where it will be workshopped and read by American Composers Orchestra and maestro George Manahan. Nick spoke to us about the readings and his piece.

Rehearsals, workshops, and final readings are free and open to the public on June 22 and 23 at The DiMenna Center for Classical (450 West 37th Street, NYC). RSVP here

Composer Nick DiBerardino

American Composers Orchestra: What was your reaction to finding out your piece had been selected for the Underwood New Music Readings?

Nick DiBerardino: Well I was certainly excited. Even when you think you’ve written a good piece, you know going into an application process like this that your odds are very slim. This piece is for triple winds, as well, meaning it calls for a slightly larger orchestra than is typical—that by itself had already narrowed down my chances of hearing the piece again. So I’m very appreciative to have been selected for UNMR!

ACO: Your selected piece Mercury-Redstone 3 is based on the somewhat under-celebrated NASA mission that first sent an American astronaut, Alan Shepard, into space. Can you talk about the narrative arc that’s painted in your piece? What musical themes or gestures have you created to represent this story?

Alan Shepard in the Freedom 7 capsule before launch

ND: Sure. You know, some sense of narrative always tends to crop up in my music. It’s something that used to happen kind of automatically, but as I’ve matured as a composer I’ve actively embraced that side of my voice. I find that composing with a clear extramusical concept helps me to sharpen and refine my musical ideas. When you know your piece is about a rocket ship, for example, that significantly reduces the otherwise infinite number of sound worlds you might choose to create. I’m not usually working in a way where I’m trying to directly encode narrative ideas into sound, so you won’t find things like leitmotifs in Mercury-Redstone 3. What you will hear is that this piece weaves itself through an almost audaciously active set of musical textures, full of overlapping trills, propulsive rhythms, and whooshing scalar gestures. That all relates closely to my interest in the Mercury-Redstone 3 mission. When I was a kid, I wanted to be an astronaut, and the intense activity and excitement in this music responds directly to my inner sense of wonder about the audacity of human spaceflight. For me, there is a moment in the piece where I feel like the rocket actually takes off, but you’ll have to tell me what you think when you hear it for yourself!

ACO: In addition to being a composer, you are a committed teacher. You co-founded and were director of “Back in Tune,” a wonderfully successful arts initiative which helped an underserved school in Bridgeport, Connecticut gain status as a performing arts institution and receive state funding. Can you talk about any ways in which these roles have influenced your voice, techniques, or priorities as a composer?

ND: The process of composing music necessarily involves a fair amount of solitude. I wouldn’t trade that – I’m not sure I could produce quality music any other way. That said, I’ve always been drawn to the inherently social side of music making. To realize any piece of music, it takes tremendous energies of collaborative engagement on the part of performers and audiences alike. I imagine that the power music has in our daily lives is intimately related to the way we experience it collectively, as a community. Even if we’re just listening by ourselves on our headphones, we know on some level that the music we’re receiving is a message from another person, and—as long as we like what we’re hearing, anyway—we probably enjoy that sense of human connection. I suppose that’s part of the reason I compose in the first place; I feel I have something meaningful to say, and I hope my music will speak on some level to its listeners. It’s probably that social view of music that motivates me to share my passion for our art directly in my teaching, my curatorial projects, and through the community engagement work I’ve done with Back in Tune and other organizations. That philosophy surely has an important effect on my compositions, as well, though it’s harder for me to pin down exactly how that manifests. I do always craft my pieces around the idea that I’d like someone to be listening attentively, that I’d like a performer to be playing in a live setting, as comfortably as possible, and that no matter how challenging the musical material may be, everyone involved might be rewarded with a satisfying sonic journey.

ACO: What are you doing to prepare for the readings? Are there any changes you are making to your piece?

ND: I did recently prepare for UNMR by returning to my score and reorchestrating several passages that weren’t quite speaking right. That’s a regular part of my process with orchestral music, since I always find lots of little details that can be fine-tuned during the rehearsal process. In fact, I think that may be an integral part of any orchestral premiere—even Mahler made edits to his scores in rehearsal, and he was a longtime conductor! Luckily, I had the amazing good fortune of working on Mercury-Redstone 3 with the Curtis Symphony Orchestra, and they have to be one of the finest student orchestras in the world. I spent a significant amount of time with my score and Curtis’ rendition of it leading up to UNMR. Mostly I was trying to rework the balance of foreground and background in the piece, rebalancing the several layers of activity that alternately vie for attention and settle into supporting roles throughout.

ACO: What do you hope to gain from the readings?

ND: From everything I hear, ACO does a fantastic job making the Underwood readings into a broadly useful learning experience. I’m sure the workshops on engraving, branding, copyright, and programming will be informative—it’s always good to double-down on the nuts and bolts of the business side of things. More than anything else, though, I’m looking forward to learning from the formidable combined experience of George Manahan, Derek Bermel, Libby Larsen, David Rakowski, Trevor Weston, and the musicians of the ACO. You don’t often get a chance to workshop your music with so many seasoned professionals! I’m looking forward to hearing as much feedback as I can get over the course of the readings, and I’m sure I’ll learn a whole lot that I’ll carry with me into my future orchestral work.

Rehearsals, workshops, and final readings are free and open to the public on June 22 and 23 at The DiMenna Center for Classical (450 West 37th Street, NYC). RSVP here

Learn more about Nick DiBerardino at www.nickdiberardino.com
Follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Soundcloud

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