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Commissions?

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Hey all, I'm just curious, how many of you out there write commissioned pieces for more traditional ensemble? I ask because I just finished the first of a set of four choral anthems for a church, and I got to wondering how many others who focus on game composing also have their feet in that world. Also, if you do commissions, what is your focus (i.e. choral, small ensemble, brass, woodwind quintets/string quartet)? What kind of commissions have you done? I'll start: I consider myself pretty fluent in most small ensemble writing--string quartets, brass quintets are strongest for me. I am probably most comfortable writing choral stuff. Never had the opportunity to write for full orchestra, and would, of course, kill for a client with that kind of budget. Am in process of writing four choral anthems commissioned by a local church, and am in negotiations for a small ensemble piece (string quartet, probably) about Antarctica, probably about 20 min total length. I've done combination live and electronic pieces for a dance performance, a brass quintet, a couple piano trios (piano/violin/cello), and a short arrangement for flute/violin/cello. How about you guys?

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I've done several pieces for small, mixed ensembles and such. I've also written several piano pieces and am in the process of finishing up a 5 movement piano suite.

I don't do as many commissions as I'd like to, but I'm usually pretty busy with the other work so it doesn't bother me too much. I'd really like to write a piece like Ravel's Daphnius Et Cloe- which is perhaps my favorite classical piece. If you haven't heard it, check it out- AMAZING!

[Edited by - nsmadsen on October 29, 2007 3:56:43 PM]

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My main income is from writing commisioned compositions. I am making a swtich to game music, but at the moment 95% of my compositions are still for ensembles and orchestras (though I am taking still assignments if you need a composer ;) )

My main focus is on ensembles. Mainly I create an idea, form an ensemble and then get a commision from the government, sponsors etc. I use often non-standard combinations to experiment with colours and setups. For example I wrote a piece for clarinet, bass guitar, harp, piano and 2 accordions. This ensemble is on of my favorite :)
My last work is for recorder, 2 cello's and grand piano. This was performed in a beautifull church with the 4 musicians surrounding the audience.

A large project I am working on is a music theatre production about the Divine Comedy of Dante. 5 years ago I performed the first part The Inferno. It was a musical tour through the 9 rings of hell. Every ring had its own ensemble and presentation. In this project I used 112 musicians, a dance group, 3d animation, actors, a music box built for me containing 8 minutes of music (now in a museum in the Netherlands) and a lot of electronic music (sample based, analoge and music concrete. Total time of the production is 2 hours and 15 minutes. The public doesnt sit still but is walking from stage to stage till they have finished all the 9 rings.
At the moment I am working on the second part Purgatorio, which is a bit smaller in setup and is scheduled for premiere at august 2008.
I have not yet a commision for the third part Paradiso yet, but working on that and hopefully I can work out that all 3 parts can be performed after eachother. You can compare it a bit to the Ring des Nibelungen from Wagner or the opera Light from Karlheinz Stockhausen.

Other commisions are from the conservatory I am bound to as lecture and I write a lot final exam pieces for students who want to have a new modern piece at their exam. They get a nice budget from the conservatory for that.

My dream is to write a compostion like Quator pour le fin du temps from Olivier Messiaen. It is for 4 musicians and written in a concentration camp during WW2 but oh my, the intensity is that big that even a 120 person orchestra cannot get close. If you dont know it, buy it and listen to it. First time can be quite heavy if you are not that familiar with modern music, but give the piece a change and you will get one of the most rewarding experiences ever (in my opinion).

And as reaction to Nathan; indeed Daphnis et Cloé is one of the most amazing and well orchestrated pieces around :) I hope you succeed in writing such a piece! You sure have the skill to write magnificant pieces.

[Edited by - Jaap1978 on October 29, 2007 3:07:02 PM]

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Jaap,

Man, if I were in Netherlands, I'd be at one of your concerts in a flash! I'd also love to hang out, drink coffee and talk about music and composition. Alas...we're on different sides of the globe.

I'm glad to hear that you're doing so much work and would love to hear a recording of your Divine Comedy of Dante!

Well, keep up the great work and thank you for the kind words and faith in mine!

Nathan

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Ditto to nsmadsen, Jaap--your stuff sounds fascinating, and I'd love to at least see a recording or something, if not get to a performance someday. The Dante project sounds really cool--I've always wanted to do a musical theatre piece (I've toyed with the Beowulf narrative as a subject, but never seriously). I've studied and listened to the Messiaen--it's a pretty amazing story behind that piece, not to mention a great piece in its own right. As for Daphnius et Cloe, I'm not familiar with that one, but I'll be going to check it out soon...

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Thanks for the kind words and support Nathan and Blaise. On my website you will find 3 demo's and I am still checking in what form I will publish the concept on my website. I have some nice video recordings, but at the moment I am also re-writing alot of the stuff and maybe I can make a better recording with a new concert.

Would be nice to chat with you about music Nathan :) Maybe we can establish some contact by msn or mail and whenever you are near the Netherlands, let me know :D

But back on topic to the commisions. I am also curious how it goes for the other composers around here.

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Original post by nsmadsen
Man, if I were in Netherlands, I'd be at one of your concerts in a flash! I'd also love to hang out, drink coffee and talk about music and composition.

I am :D. I live in Breda, Jaap...Maybe we could get in touch, sounds very interesting :)

Oh, and Nate. I'm downloading Daphnis et Cloe right now!

-Stenny

[Edited by - stenny on November 6, 2007 3:08:58 PM]

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Original post by Arglebargle
man, you guys are all doing such interesting things with music. I feel like I'm doing nothing of worth. :(


The worth of music doesn't have anything to do with how big a performance it gets. The quality of the music and how well it communicates with the listener are the only important considerations. Frank Martin was a 20th century Swiss composer, and wrote a setting of the Mass for double choir when he was 30 years old. He then put it in his desk drawer, claiming that it was too personal, that it was unworthy, and that it was "just between him and God." 35 years later, a friend convinced him to let it be performed. Now it's considered one of the most moving settings of the Mass ever written. Just goes to show that your own estimation of your music is nowhere near as important as how well your music communicates.

That said, have you ever tried to seek out opportunities to write for live players? If not, you should! Oftentimes existing groups like string quartets or woodwind quintets, or even church choirs (if you write choral) are either looking for new music or willing to read through a new piece.

Seriously, the absolute BEST way to learn how to notate and write instrumental parts is if you're writing for someone. My first piano trio, I wrote ridiculous parts for the violin and terrible bowings for both violin and cello. I learned really fast though--when someone looks at your score and goes "what the hell?" you tend to learn very quickly what works and what doesn't. Embarrassment is an effective teacher.

Also, if you can't gett someone to commission a piece, try to get one performed that you've already written--call in all your favors, beg and plead, but get it performed! Then you can automatically say in an offhand and casual manner "Yeah, I had a piece premiered the other day." Offhand and casual is important--practice it in the mirror. Then, when you have the opportunity to write again, whether commissioned or solicited, and they ask about your previous work, you can nonchalantly talk about the premiere you had. As long as you're slightly vague about the details that it was performed by the Shawdale String-And-Barbershop Quartet And Variety Show, you then have automatic credibility. You're a "serious" composer with a premiere under your belt, and that counts for everything.

Bottom line: you may write electronic music to pay bills, get jobs, whatever, but live performances are what you LIVE for, and if you've never had the chance to have one...they're still what you live for, and you just haven't lived yet. It's one of the most amazing experiences; even if you're not that happy with the piece, the bassoonist hates his part, and the ensemble is a little under-rehearsed, it's still YOURS. YOU wrote it, someone is performing it, and someone else is listening. And THAT's what keeps us composing even when the money's bad.

[Edited by - Blaise Douros on November 8, 2007 1:14:04 AM]

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Original post by Blaise Douros
As long as you're slightly vague about the details that it was performed by the Shawdale String-And-Barbershop Quartet And Variety Show, you then have automatic credibility.


HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!! Blaise that was very, very funny! :) Great advice too! Oh and the Shawdale String-And-Barbershop Quartet And Variety Show has added a dancing dogs bit as well so they're now billed as:

"Shawdale String-And-Barbershop Quartet And Variety Show with Dancing Dogs"

Thanks,

Nathan

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As long as you're slightly vague about the details that it was performed by the Shawdale String-And-Barbershop Quartet And Variety Show, you then have automatic credibility.


What's the saying, you don't sell the "steak" but the "sizzle"

Quote:
It's one of the most amazing experiences; even if you're not that happy with the piece, the bassoonist hates his part, and the ensemble is a little under-rehearsed, it's still YOURS.


I have to add one caveat, while I'm sure nothing compares to the sense of fulfillment a good performance of your music can bring, I don't know that anything equals the disappointment of having a piece that you slaved over butchered by a poor performance.

When I was at Berklee, in one of my first Film Scoring classes I had to compose a short intro for some nature show and then go to the studio to conduct and record it to picture with live players. I wrote pretty simple music and used a small ensemble of maybe 7 or 8 players thinking that would give me the best shot at a good performance. I booked all the musicians from the session call list they kept in the department, most of whoms listing was mandatory due to scholarship obligations, and despite being nervous about my conducting abilites, I was pretty excited about getting a solid recording of some of my music.

Most of the players were late and all looked like they'de rather be anywhere than reading through parts with a novice conductor with his grade on the line (in their defense, it was finals week). Then when my first violinist, who had most of the melodic material, showed up almost 15 minutes into my 55 minute session, she was empty-handed. She explained that her violin had been taken to the wrong luthier by her roomate or something and she couldn't get it in time for the session, but she wanted to tell me in person. That really meant the world to me with a ticking clock and a ragtag group of players who could barely stay awake.

Needless to say, the session was nightmare and I disposed of the recording as soon as left the mixing room. I don't blame the players, I was in the same boat being obligated to perform on sessions as a bassist for the Jazz Comp department despite the fact I could barely read nursery rhymes in whole notes with no metronome. Luckily the only sessions I got roped into were more chart reading and improvisation, but I still hated the idea of being the guy that ruined someone else's piece.

I did learn one valuable lesson though, having players who care about the music and the performance, whether it's because they like your music, you agreed to pay them scale or a 12-pack, or because they owed you, is more important than whatever ink you put on the pages. If you're the only one in the room who gives a shit, you maybe better off deferring to VSL or EWQLSO and a good deal of programming.

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Man John,

That is rough! I'm sorry that happened to you. I've been in the same boat myself actually- and you're completely right: it is so important that you select the right musicians and try and give them as much incentive as possible to do a great job. I, for one, have been asked to play student compositions often and always strive to do my absolute best because not only is the composer's music being judged---- my playing and musical abilities are as well! I would never do a half a$$ed job of reading someone's score because I always want to be viewed as a serious, talented and dedicated musician. I'm really sorry you had such a sucky experience. What did your professor say?

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I'm really sorry you had such a sucky experience. What did your professor say?


I'm actually not, it gave me an appreciation of how hard it is to get a really good performance of even simple film music.

That professor was pretty sympathetic, I'm sure i wasn't the first or the last student to bring in a poor performance. He looked over the score and listened to the synthesized version of what I wrote and understood what I was looking for. At the time I was there, this was 7-8 years ago, Berklee just really didn't have a good solution for getting more traditional works performed. Most of these players weren't bad, they just weren't session players. Most of them were more like me, they got into Berklee with some chops and some performance skills, but they were there to study music business or production or whatever, if they really wanted to be elite session players or performers, they would have been across the street studying at the conservatory.

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Nice Stenny :) We sure should get in touch then :D

Your story sounds familiar John. I think me and a lot of my fellow students suffered the same experiences in the first years. We had ensemble weeks where people had to form an ensemble and perform some modern pieces. Pfff very hard somethimes and people were so demotived. In the end it was mostly rewarding because hopefully for both parties it ended ok. But I had and my best composing friend even worse some experiences that people ran away, refused guidance etc etc.

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I have to add one caveat...


You're right, of course. There is nothing more terrifying than hearing your music butchered. I was talking in my post about a reasonably successful performance, or at least one where the musicians give it their best shot.

I had this brass quintet performed by a quintet that was premiering two pieces that night; mine, and their own 1st trumpet player's. You can guess which one got the rehearsal time. I never even bothered to go get the recording.

So I see what you're saying, I just wanted to put my own post in context.

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Maybe nice to tell also a succesfull and in my eyes quite an extrordinary thing to do for a musician.

In my third year of my study I had an performance with a piece for trumpet, harp, celesta and contrabass. The trumpet had to start high and I asked the player already before if it was not too high to start. "No worries", he said.

On the first rehearsal I gave him the score and I was quite unsure about the start since in my opinion it would never go ok with the high start, but since he was confident about it I decided to give it try.

He took out the score and looked at me and said to me again no problem at all! (it started with b2 written).
He grabbed a basket of pure lemon juice out of his jacket, drank a ferm amount of it. Made one of the nastiest faces imaginable and said to me: well this for sure gives you a tight embrouchure. He took his trumpet and *pew* straight on the spot he hit the clear note.
I could have nothing then deep deep respect for this guy :)

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