Interview with ICO composer-in-residence James Aikman, Part 2
Sometimes people get scared off by the term “new music.” We asked ICO composer-in-residence James Aikman his views and what you can expect from his piece Triptych: Musical Momentum.
What are your thoughts on new music?
Quality trumps musical aesthetic, I believe. Personality within good music shines through, no matter the “style” or musical “camp.”
Performances of new music are usually striking and first-rate. Mainly, this is due to a heightened respect for current music where ensembles take it upon themselves to rehearse a piece to where it becomes truly known to them, rather than just a decent reading. Performers’ familiarity with the music, and one’s place within it, is so very important, especially given the first-hearing of new works. The unity of composer and performer collegiality has returned to music-making. There are many reasons for this, too numerous to get into here, all good for music, in my opinion.
The fact that the ICO is spending the necessary extra time to learn, live with, and project Triptych to the listening public is vital. Just as in any field of endeavor, we appreciate excellence; expect it of ourselves and of others. This is good! People listening should focus on listening and trust their natural reactions. Music is music and if it is good, it has transmitted from source to composer to performer to listener.
Can you give us some insight into Triptych: Musical Momentum? What can listeners expect to hear? What should they listen for?
Just like its visual counterpart, Triptych: Musical Momentum is in three sections: Present, Past, Future. This partitioning allows for maximizing the unity within, and variety between, distinct individual movements.
The first movement is Prelude, where everyone will hear it beginning with just the harp projecting the harmony. Then, listen for the violins entering over it with the theme, a theme which keeps appearing throughout the unfolding of the piece. Woodwinds appear, brass says a distinct hello, and the piece grows, with subtle percussion gradually building throughout to a definite triumph or two. In the midst is a chorale, with the theme presented in the brass choir, then in close dialogue between the winds and strings. A return takes place before a dramatic low, to high ascent in the strings sets up the finale, a drive to the finish including all the ideas in layers together.
The second movement is The Particle Garden, a title borrowed from a book by a distinguished friend and colleague at the University of Michigan, Gordon Kane. Prof. Kane is widely known for his voluminous writings on physics and is often sought out by the media for his ability to translate notable discoveries in the field to the public. Gordon Kane once bet Stephen Hawking that the Higgs Boson (the “God” particle) would be discovered during their lifetimes. On July 4, 2012, Hawking called the media to announce that he had lost a bet to Gordy Kane! When I knew that Triptych would be premiered during Butler’s ArtsFest: Fables, Fairytales, and Physics, I asked Gordy if I could steal his title for the second movement to which he replied he would be honored. I am the honored one. This central movement is daringly lyric and incorporates electronic music derived from the “live” music part, as a stereo field, adding another dimension to the sonic spectrum. This lyrical statement is a retrospective.
The third movement is Fanfare which doesn’t begin with the grand, tutti fanfare you may be familiar with, but grows toward it, eventually including the entire orchestra rather than just the traditional brass and percussion. The musical ingredients are quite related, and develop from materials within. A theme is presented in the harp and strings, then grows to the full orchestra rhythmic statement, including a hammer which keeps time hammering onto a 2 x 4 block of wood, just as in building a solid foundation for the future. (note: be sure to look for this…it’s neat to see the percussion hammering away in the back!)
How do you spend your free time?
Thinking (some people really wonder about me…). Reading, often a chapter or two of several books simultaneously, mainly spiritual enrichment and creative productivity-related books/topics/words-to-perhaps-set. I am also a huge college basketball fan, even when Butler, IU, and Michigan aren’t highly rated, and often watch games with my family. I have been a jogger since the 1970s and find that for me, physical exercise is a necessary balance to the sedentary isolation of creative productivity. I enjoy good comedy, and watching TedTalks on various subjects by leaders in their fields.
What’s your favorite vacation spot?
Other than coming back to Indy to see family, friends and colleagues, I love day trips and rejuvenating weekend getaways. The west coast of Michigan in the summer is heaven on earth. The dunes and the beaches are rarely ever crowded and have cool nights, warm days, see-through clarity of the lake and wonderful places to eat. Beyond that, I love the mountains, the Aspen Music Festival, Sedona, etc. Hilton Head Island, Florida, Canada… Mainly, peaceful spots which allow re-connection with the incredible outdoors!
Buy tickets for the world premiere of Triptych: Musical Momentum
on April 11, 2014 at the Howard L. Schrott Center for the Arts