Q&A with Composer Sid Richardson

Composer Sid Richardson’s piece Door to the River was selected for the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra EarShot New Music Readings, where it will be rehearsed and performed under the direction of conductor Bradley Thachuk, with mentorship from composers Robert Beaser, Chen Yi, and Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate. Reading sessions are free and open to the public on January 28, 2020 at 10am and January 29, 2020 at 7pm at Kleinhans Music Hall. Click here for more information.

Sid Richardson is a composer whose work explores the intersections of music and literature, with a style that focuses on harmony and timbre. Richardson has collaborated with many first-rate artists, including Alsarah & the Nubatones, The Da Capo Chamber Players, Del Sol Quartet, Sinfonia Salt Lake, and yMusic, and has earned awards such as the Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, 2018 Hermitage Prize from the Aspen Music Festival and School, and the Elliott Carter Memorial Composition Fellowship from the Tanglewood Music Center. He holds degrees from Duke University, Boston Conservatory, and Tufts University, studying with composers John Supko and Stephen Jaffe, and is currently on the faculty at MIT.

We spoke with Sid about his piece and the EarShot program.

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American Composers Orchestra: What was your reaction to finding out your piece had been selected?

Sid Richardson: I was overjoyed when I found that my piece had been selected of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra EarShot New Music Readings. I was waiting for my lunch in a pizza parlor in Boston when I checked my inbox on my phone — I remember my jaw dropped when I read the email.

ACO: Can you talk about your compositional process for your selected work, Door to the River? Does anything stand out, like mentorship from another composer or inspiration from music you were listening to at the time, as a strong influence on the piece?

SR: My piece Door to the River was written for a reading with the Aspen Conductors’ Academy Orchestra at the Aspen Music Festival and School back in 2018. The piece came together in a matter of weeks, so it necessitated a veritable explosion of creative energy to meet the deadline. I was exhausted afterwards, especially since I also had a commission for chamber ensemble due the same day. I worked closely with my mentor, composer Stephen Jaffe, on the first draft of the piece. After hearing it performed in a reading in Aspen, I had the opportunity to revise and lengthen it with tutelage from the incredible composition faculty there, which included Christopher Theofanidis, Stephen Hartke, and Donald Crockett. They really helped me fine tune the pacing and tweak details of the orchestration. Finally, I had the benefit of hearing it performed a second time with those revisions.

ACO: Your selected piece is inspired by and named after Willem de Kooning’s painting, Door to the River. Can you talk about why you chose this particular painting as the basis for your piece? Were there any other paintings, by Willem de Kooning or other artists, that were in the running?

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Willem de Kooning — Door to the River (www.whitney.org)

SR: There were several motivations behind me choosing Willem de Kooning’s painting Door to the River as the creative catalyst for this piece. I’ve always been drawn to de Kooning’s abstract works because he captures a sense of movement in his brush strokes — his paintings feel dynamic. This one in particular combines an intriguing color palette with an otherworldly atmosphere. For my own work, I knew I wanted to write a piece that contained both bold gestures and a floating, amorphous middle section. I had included this painting in a course I designed and taught at Duke University titled Beyond Andy Warhol: Art & Music in New York City, so it was on my radar. It seemed to be a logical jumping off point for a short orchestral work. But there were definitely some other paintings in the running, including de Kooning’s …Whose Name Was Writ in Water (1975) and Helen Frankenthaler’s Mountains and Sea (1952). I find those works to be highly evocative as well, so maybe they’ll get their own treatments someday.

ACO: What are you doing to prepare for the readings? Are there any changes you have made to your piece since its last performance?

SR: In preparations for the readings I’ve been refamiliarizing myself with the score at the piano. I’ve also listened to the recordings I have of the previous readings in Aspen to see where potential problem spots may be. I’ve made some small changes to the score ahead of the readings with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, mostly small things like the use of certain brass mutes and a few registral displacements. One of the more dramatic changes has been the removal of alto flute from the orchestra. I decided a very low C flute could bring out those solo lines, and I love the sound of that instrument in its lowest register.

ACO: What are you looking forward to about the workshops and readings? What do you hope to learn from the experience?

SR: There are so many aspects of the readings that I am looking forward to that it’s hard to enumerate them all. It’s such a thrill to hear one’s music played by an orchestra, and to have it played by such amazing musicians will be a unique experience. I’m hoping to keep my ears open to any advice I may receive from maestro Bradley Thachuk and our prestigious composer mentors Robert Beaser, Chen Yi, and Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate. I’m also eagerly looking forward to hearing the works by my fellow composers Sakari Vanderveer, Vincent Calianno, and SiHyun Uhm. In these settings, I often find that I learn the most from my peers, their scores and the comments stemming from their works. Over the course of this experience, I aim to continue learning the complex craft of orchestration and I look forward to meeting all the musicians that will bring our works to life.

Hear Sid Richardson’s Door to the River at the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra EarShot New Music Readings. Reading sessions are free and open to the public on January 28, 2020 at 10am and January 29, 2020 at 7pm at Kleinhans Music Hall. Click here for more information.

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