May 25, 2005
Parts, parts, parts
I’ve been busy for the past several days, working on a brand new set of parts for the original orchestra version of Redline Tango. (The Minnesota Orchestra needs the revised parts within the next 10 days. As a little shout-out to the conductor, Andrew Litton, I have to thank him for fighting to program Redline Tango — the only piece by a living composer for the entire summer season.)
As I wrote here a while back, when I made the wind version, I simplified a lot of notation, just to make it easier to read. (Warning: it’s going to get pretty theory-centric for a few paragraphs…) The notes were the same, and the effect was the same, but it just looked less complicated. It was that experience that finally taught me that my first instinct about metric notation may not be the right one. For example, in the original version, there were lots of meters in 12/16, coming after meters like 5/8. To me, the pulse really was changing to four dotted-8ths per bar, but the orchestra players saw 5/8 followed by 12/16 and had to quickly think, “is the pulse changing? Is the 8th-note constant, or is there a metric modulation here? How is this 12/16 bar divided? Is it in 4 beats, or something weirder?” And they asked themselves these questions while they were sight-reading a piece with a tempo of quarter note=132. In short, it made the piece a bitch to read.
So I changed all of the 12/16 bars to either 6/8 or 3/4, depending primarily on the meter proceeding or subsequent to that bar. For example, if the previous bar is in 5/8 — divided into 2+3 — I put the 12/16 bar in 6/8, because the musicians are counting a beat of three 8th notes right before that measure. If the measure before is in 5/4, I put the 12/16 bar in 3/4.
Another change was my notation of staccato notes. I’d often put a 16th-note followed immediately by a 16th-rest. In the revision, I changed those to 8th-notes with staccato marks. It’s hard to argue that there’s any audible difference at this tempo, but it makes the music look a lot simpler, and that makes the piece a lot easier to play, and that means it can be done in less rehearsal time.
So I’m taking all of those notation changes that I made on the band version, and I’m putting them back into the orchestra version. (There are other changes, like a few scoring changes to fix some orchestration that never quite worked, but the bulk of the differences are notational.) That’s why Litton agreed to program it this summer — because he could put it together quickly and easily.
Unfortunately, as of now, I won’t be at the Minnesota Orchestra’s performance in July. The orchestra, like most, is broke, and they can’t afford to bring me out. This speaks volumes about why orchestras are sickly. I’m the only not-dead composer on any of their summer concerts, and I have ties to the community (having had a Music Alive residency with the youth orchestra there in 2002-2003), and they won’t fly me there to speak to the audience and do whatever else they might want me to do. Granted, I want to go for selfish reasons, too — it’s fun working with Andrew, and I think the performance will be pretty spectacular, and I rarely hear the orchestra version. It’s a shame.
Ravel was charming and a good dresser, but he’s dead, and can’t attend anyway. I’m alive (plus I have a nice suit!), and this will be the premiere of the revised version of the piece, and the orchestra can’t find a way to fly out the only not-dead composer on the summer program.
This, after my amazing experiences with wind ensembles this season, is terribly disappointing by comparison.