Underwood New Music Readings – Composer Spotlight: Martin Kennedy

Martin Kennedy (b. 1978) received his B.M. and M.M. at Indiana University before earning a Doctor of Musical Arts at the Juilliard School where he was a C.V. Starr Doctoral Fellow. Kennedy’s music has been performed internationally by numerous artists and ensembles, including the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Orchestra Teatro Comunale di Bologna, South Dakota Symphony Orchestra, Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra, Wisconsin Philharmonic, Bloomington Camerata, Symphony in C, and Tuscaloosa Symphony. He is the recipient of several prestigious prizes, including the ASCAP Foundation Rudolf Nissim Prize, the ‘2 Agosto’ International Composition Prize, a BMI Student Composer Award, an Aaron Copland Award, and many others. Kennedy’s music is available on the Ancalagon, Anbardy, Azica, Centaur, and Riax labels and is published by Theodore Presser Company and G. Schirmer Inc.  Previously a member of the academic faculty at Washington University in St. Louis, he is currently the Director of Composition and Theory at Central Washington University in Washington State.

Martin’s piece Siren, blind was selected for the 2017 Underwood New Music Readings where it will be workshopped and read by American Composers Orchestra and maestro George Manahan. Martin 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 and pianist Martin Kennedy

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

Martin Kennedy: It was of course a great honor to be selected as a participant in this year’s Underwood New Music Readings. I was previously a part of this program in 2003 while a student at The Juilliard School, and the experience proved invaluable to my educational and professional career. I look back on that experience fondly and carry with me to this day lessons learned during that marvelous experience.

ACO: Your program notes offer three poignant quotes – from Homer’s The Odyssey, Joyce’s Ulysses, and Kafka’s The Silence of the Sirens – describing the terrifying seduction of Sirens. Why did you choose this subject as the basis for your piece? Does the orchestra take on the role of a “siren,” seducing and luring the listener, or of the siren’s victim, or both, or something else entirely?

MK: A constant refrain in both my teaching and my own composing is the crucial importance of the dramatic and visual arts as a stimulus for new explorations in musical form and narrative. With Siren, blind, I took particular inspiration from the genre of dramatic works built around minor literary characters — Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad, for example — to gain a new perspective on otherwise familiar tales. The Sirens of Homer’s Odyssey famously seduced sailors to their death (or ecstasy, depending upon your reading of the tale), but my mind can’t help but wander to those passengers in the background who travel far from those fatal rocks and aren’t even worth a mention. As time progresses and my own journeys unfold, I find myself far more interested in those souls who are not even given the chance of temptation. And that is, in essence, what Siren, blind is about.

ACO: Can you talk about your compositional process for Siren, blind? Did you start with a broad picture of the piece, or with smaller gestures? At what point did you begin to make decisions about the orchestration?

MK: My process varies from day to day, measure by measure. Sometimes there is a short score, sometimes I write straight into the score, most often it is a combination of both. Much is dependent on the initial concept and architecture. Upon commissioning this work, Nikolas Caoile, conductor of the Central Washington University Symphony Orchestra, placed two small conditions upon me: that my piece contain both highly detailed string divisi and musical quotations. With those directives, my musical and dramatic processes ran along parallel lines, with the music offering shape to the narrative and the narrative framing the musical material. And as the work grew, yet another narrative emerged, populated with a more personal cast of characters (who deserve the right to remain unseen themselves)

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

MK: The majority of adjustments regarding balance, dynamics, etc. were made to the piece during the rehearsals running up to its premiere this past December. Our university orchestra is outstanding both in their musical proficiency and intelligence, and their hard work allowed me the luxury of re-working passages during the rehearsal process. Now the ACO readings will provide me with yet another priceless opportunity to work with yet a group of amazing musicians who I have no doubt will further advance my craft.

More than anything, though, I’m looking forward to studying and learning from the work of my colleagues, all of whom are brilliant composers, possessing both fantastic ideas and sterling technique. It is a supremely talented group and I’m eagerly awaiting learning as much as I can from the orchestra members, composers, and lecturers at the ACO Underwood Readings.

Learn more about Martin at www.martinkennedy.com
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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

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